No More Culture of Childhood?

For children in past eras, participating in the culture of childhood was a socializing process. They learned to settle their own quarrels, to make and break their own rules, and to respect the rights of others. They learned that friends could be mean as well as kind, and that life was not always fair.

Now that most children no longer participate in this free-form experience — play dates arranged by parents are no substitute — their peer socialization has suffered. One tangible result of this lack of socialization is the increase in bullying, teasing and discrimination that we see in all too many of our schools.

David Elkind makes some compelling points about recess, play, and the culture of childhood in “Playtime is Over.”  The piece is in response to a recent article about how some schools are putting in place recess coaches to help children learn how to play.  Since I’ve always felt strongly that we adults needed to stay out of the kids’ way during recess, only interfering if safety is involved, Elkind’s points were striking.  While there are kids experiencing childhood closer to what I experienced (as I do see them exercising their imaginations and playing as I did) there are others who are experiencing a very different one and perhaps do need the sort of help these coaches provide.  Thought-provoking indeed.


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3 responses to “No More Culture of Childhood?

  1. Interesting. I’ve heard the term “helicopter parenting” where you’re always hovering nearby.

    I do think there’s a balance though. My daughter’s only 2, so not an expert by a long shot :-) but it seems like you can be available nearby without inserting yourself unnecessarily. And if you are needed, there’s got to be a way to honor letting the kids solve it themselves with some gentle nudging from the adult.

    I guess we’ll see once I get there!


  2. This is kind of depressing for me to think about. My children are 7, 5, and 2 1/2, and while there are lots of children in the neighborhood, it’s a near-impossible task to get any of them over to play without a round of phone calls and calendar-filling. Arrgh.

    As for “recess coaches,” this seems a lot like the tradition of having a “yard teacher,” whose job it was to supervise recess, dole out play equipment, and teach new games. It’s a position most lovingly memorialized through the character of Louis in Sideways Stories from Wayside School.


  3. Of course there need to be adults monitoring, but that is very different from running things. At my school we have a bunch of teachers supervising. Because it is on a closed-off-NYC-street we have to scan for cars, people, and so forth, but we also watch the kids carefully too. When a big bunch start to argue we get involved, when they get physical, and so forth. Or say when we know of a particular situation, say something involving bullying — we pay close attention to those kids, I can tell you. But we otherwise stay out of things pretty much.


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