” … leave the children alone. Pitch them out into the streets or the playgrounds, and take no notice of them.”
The novelist D.H. Lawrence wrote these words almost a hundred years ago but they still raise big questions today.
From their earliest days we drag and cajole our children into ever more organised activities.
We hoik our new borns around endless “baby gym”, music, signing and massage “classes”.
Many of us put our kids in childcare very young. Children start school earlier and earlier – in the UK most go at 4. And we organise every more complicated crafts plus science, reading and maths activities.
But isn’t all this stimulation good for our child’s development?
Some evidence suggests not. Or at least that children are missing out on opportunities to entertain themselves … free from adult direction … and even, god forbid, to be bored.
A friend of mine who is a Professor of Child Development and who has been following groups of London children from birth to adolescence says that there has been a noticeable drop in children’s ability to work out “what to do” when left to their own devices.
Anecdotally, my sister, who does admissions at a top ranked college, says she is increasingly shocked by the number of grade A 18 year olds who haven’t read a novel apart from those studied at school.
Maybe, every generation thinks the next lack independence of thought.
But I do think things were different when I was a kid. Most of the time we played outside with all the other kids on the street … without our mums … the big ones looking after the littlies. It had to be really pouring down for us to stay in.
My mum was a playgroup leader and she did organise activities for us but I know sometimes she looks aghast at my desire for my 3 year old to be “learning” something specific through organised play.
My mum adores this post from a wonderful blogger The Seasoned Homemaker who “entertains” her grandchildren by letting them dig mud in a fallow bed, poke with a stick at the wet ashes in the BBQ and watch the bin men.
Yesterday my daughter entertained herself spontaneously by jumping on bubble wrap! Was this experience of making your own fun more valuable than all my planned activities?
I am not sure.
What should we do? Forget all the “learning” activities & pitch our kids out in the street & leave them alone as Lawrence suggested. Or did he have it wrong?
What do you think?