THE CRUNCHY MOM: A Plea for Play

(Illustration: Onya Hogan-Finlay)

On a beautiful Sunday morning not long ago, around 10 parents and even more children gathered on a beautiful South Shore beach for a birthday party. 

The grownups sipped tea and coffee. The kids had the whole beach to play. There was no game, no sport, no direction from the adults. As kids do, they made fast friends, dug into the sand, and entered a world all their own.

 They had what social scientists call “unstructured play.” We just called it “play” in our childhoods but for so many kids now, every activity is tightly scheduled. Outdoor time is spent in organized sport rather than free physical and imaginative time. 

If you think back to your childhood, I would bet your most magical memories are times spent outside, exploring the world or creating new ones with friends. So why is it so hard to come by now?

School boards and municipalities try to cut down on play-related injuries. Academics and athletics are prioritized by families and schools alike. Plus, us latchkey kids who were taught about “stranger danger” grew up and now, we have the technology to track our kids’ every movement. 

This surveillance comes at a cost. 

Adventure, autonomy, and risk are all developmentally necessary for kids to grow into self-confident, social beings who trust in themselves and value the natural world. 

Unstructured play builds imagination, confidence, social skills, and self-regulation. The Canadian Public Health Association even recognizes unstructured play as a child’s right. 

On the beach that day, it was so easy to see that playtime is the most natural thing in the world for kids. How magical would it be if it were our second nature too?


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