A couple of blog posts had me thinking in a few directions lately about childhood play and sports – then and now, so to speak.

I appreciated Dean Shareski’s post about “The Wonder Years”.  He admits that his writing may have been nostalgic in part, but I saw value in what he shared about the past and in his thoughts regarding the changes in opportunities to play and participate in sports.

Andrew Campbell also recently posted about organized sports and shared some thoughts about parent vs. child-led sports and activities in different countries.  I left a long comment and, as like Dean, I worried it was teetering into nostalgia.  I know we should be careful when sharing stories and solutions so that we don’t only romanticize the past, as Chris Wejr discussed in this post.  At the same time, I have faith in finding solutions and insight through the sharing of past and present experiences.

Here are the thoughts and questions that I left on Andrew’s post:

This post connects quite a few things and thoughts for me.  I like the connections made to play, independence, and failure.

I grew up in Canada and my childhood was seldom, if ever, about organized sports.  The neighbourhood I grew up in had many families with kids and we had many open spaces to play in, meet up, and to organize whatever seasonal game was “the thing” each week.   It seems so normal to think back on it.  It was a small town, but we independently roamed on bikes, swam at the lake, explored the woods, and walked everywhere.  The winter didn’t keep us indoors for long either.  We often played in mixed age groups, so I think parents often felt assured that someone older and more responsible was around, or not too far.  We often all went to the same school and knew each other’s siblings.  Our community had some organized sports – hockey in the winter for sure.

Fast forward to the mid-1990s as I started to raise my own children, and I wondered at which point did things change?….what changed? ….different neighbourhoods, less children overall and per family, and the children within one area went to different daycares or schools, not the same community school necessarily.  It was not as “seamless” or natural to connect with kids in the same neighbourhood after school hours or on the weekends.  Regardless, we involved our children in minimal organized sports.  We encouraged them to play independently and unsupervised with other kids when the opportunity was there.  I wish they would have had as many opportunities as I did, but we were also in a larger city compared to where I grew up.

The idea of independence is so important.  As kids have more independent experiences they become autonomous and self-directed in their choices and decisions.  I worry that if they aren’t experiencing some independence it may be too easy to blame others for their failures or circumstance and/or not take responsibility for outcomes.  Barbara Coloroso’s quote is a good one.

I may sound old and nostalgic, but I often worry that we, as a society, are not paying good attention to what is changing with play – how, where, and when.  I wish parents would feel less pressure to be involved in the scheduling and supervising, but I know it may be in good intention for social and physical well-being.  I think communities need to help support other options and opportunities for more “free range” play and child-led play.  I wonder if there are some examples of out there?  How can it be done to reflect and support today’s realities?

I am encouraged that I do see younger parents examining their influence on their children’s play and sports and that early childhood programs have a renewed focus on play-based activity and curriculum.  It is good to hear about this caring about children and their play experiences.  Will there be more stories about “wonder years” once again?

As I wrote this post I found myself humming the Cat Steven’s song, “Where do the children play?”.  I am including this video as the sound and the scenes from around the world are excellent, I thought, in addition to the wisdom in the lyrics: