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Do We Let Kids Play Enough On Their Own?

I recently drove by the elementary school both of my sons attended several years ago. It was a nice spring afternoon, a great day for a game of 500 at the baseball field or maybe just a neighborhood football game. Yes, there were kids on the baseball fields. Both fields had organized practices going on with a couple of dads coaching. There were several other parents sitting around watching. No one was on the soccer fields and I did not see any kids on the playground. Why not?
I think there are a couple of reasons.

I am 53 years old and grew up in the 1960’s. After school, we used to go up to our grade school and play baseball or football until dark. My house had a wrap around driveway, so my friends and I always played basketball at my house. Usually, it did not matter what the temperature, we played until dark, and we did it all the time. Today, things are different. As I said, I believe there are two specific reasons.

First, and probably more a symptom of our society than anything else, there are legitimate safety reasons. Most parents today are reluctant to let their kids take off on their bike on their own. They want to know where their kids are and who they are with. As a parent, I agree with this. Because of the numerous media outlets we have, whethere it is tv, the radio, the internet, cellphones or papers and magazines, we are much more aware of and concerned about sex predators, child predators and unhealthy people in our society. Most parents will feel much safer knowing that their kids are at someone else’s house, rather than playing on their own at the school or park. It is not uncommon for a group of kids to be playing, but under the supervision of an adult nearby.

Second, I think that today’s generation of parents have gotten way too caught up with signing their kids up on an organized sports team at a very young age. I have recently heard about four year old T-ball leagues that are being set up. In my opinion, there is no reason for this. Once kids start kindergarten, it is now commonplace to enroll your child on the soccer or basketball team, but I don’t think kids younger than kindergarten need to be put on an organized team. I doubt that most kids that age go to their parents and ask to sign up for a team. It comes from the parents because of pressure to keep up with everyone else, and for some because of the hope of their child playing in high school or college. Actually, the majority of kids who start playing a sport before kindergarten, usually quit before high school.

My main concern about this issue is are we as parents, because of our interest in getting our kids in organized sports at a young age, curtailing their ability to create and play on their own? Have we organized everything so much for them, that we don’t give them the opportunity to choose sides and just play? Do they always need a parent around instructing them how to swing the bat or shoot the ball? Once in a while wouldn’t it be a good idea to let them play on their own without an adult in charge? I’d like to know your thoughts.

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