As the harsh weather leaves many of us bundled up inside, I’ve recently been able to reflect on some of my favorite written works on topics near and dear, including Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff’s “How to Play Our Way to a Better Democracy.” First appearing in The New York Times last September, the piece explores the notion that, as a nation, we are losing the art of association and the ability to solve problems, both collectively and cooperatively. With this complicated dynamic in hand, the question of how we can reverse these trends in future generations of leaders is answered with one simple word: play.
Organized play where participating children are given a choice is crucial, and when kids step out on the playground with mixed-age groups and backgrounds, the most effective way to learn essential life skills—how to compromise, empathize and manage emotions—is presented. Through intentional safe and healthy play, kids familiarize themselves with different classmates’ abilities and personalities and begin to develop an understanding of unalike peers and learn to solve conflicts such as: Who was first in line? Who goes next? Was the ball in or out? But, these out-of-classroom lessons can be lost if children are prevented from participating.
Today, due to homework, standardized expectations, and the time-pressed world in which we live, children are experiencing a dramatic decrease in play, including the elimination, in many cases, of recess. Moreover, many children, sadly, do not have the chance to participate in sports and evening clubs due to lack of opportunity and associated costs.
With a mission to create more opportunities for kids to “just play,” our team of Coaches, Junior Coaches, and caring, consistent grownups at schools across Michigan act as conduits—the “older kids” on the playground, helping younger students master the art of jumping rope; including the new kid, and overall, level the playing field. We organize play structured in such a way to promote free choice of kids and encourage their development of valuable social and emotional skills.
For an in-depth look at recent findings, I encourage you to dive more into the Times article—it truly reaffirmed my belief in the importance of the collaborative work we are doing at Playworks to introduce kids to the power of play. And, if you are interested in learning more about the active play happening in neighboring elementary schools, we encourage you to reach out to administration today—you just may be influencing tomorrow’s great leaders.