Apparently, we are fear-ing and micro-managing the childishness out of childhood. Slate has a piece about helmets and sledding while the NYT has a piece about the need for parents to teach/let their kids play. Fears about lawsuits and wasted time has meant that some schools do not have recess, and kids have been overscheduled into organized activities. This news is not that new, but that there is an effort to swing the pendulum back the other is news. And it is supported by the National Science Foundation!
I find it ironic that to get parents out of micro-managing their kids, we need to hold big events to get parents involved in teaching their kids to play. I wonder if a better strategy might be to try to counteract all of the fear-mongering by the media and elsewhere that make it seem like kids are constantly at risk for being kidnapped. If you let kids hang out together without parents, they will play (you don't need to teach them specific games--they have wikipedia for that). The problem is giving kids the time and space to hang out and letting them find their way. If one has to arrange playdates because the parents are too busy and need to have close supervision, then the spontaneity is killed. Also, playdates make it hard to develop a critical mass.
But fighting the fear is tough. Kids get hurt. The piece on sledding is excellent in showing that the challenge is not so much making sure each kid is covered in shielding, but teaching them where and how to sled and then letting them rip. Not near trees, not on roads, etc. One of the nice things about my town in the suburbs of Montreal is that there is a genuine sledding hill in the middle of a big park. On one side, there is a broad slope, and on the other, there are several grooves in the hill that were carved there by the town. Of course, kids then build bumps at the bottom so that they can get tossed into the air. Is that a bad thing? Well, I haven't seen ambulances there on a regular basis, so I am pretty sure the short thrill ride is ok, even if there are no lifeguards. Parents do appear and help their kids or even ride with them, but the atmosphere is clearly one of "wheeee" and not of "whoa." So, government can help by creating spaces for safe play. The problem with the investment in fieldturf (on which I love to play ultimate) is that these becomes spaces that are scheduled and protected so that spontaneous play is not going to happen.
Structure does matter, not just government built ones. We lived for a year in Burke, Virginia, and the neighborhood in which we lived really was a neighborhood. There was a critical mass of kids, and the development seemed to create not traffic-free spaces but less trafficky ones, so the kids ran amok. Pretty cool. Our current street is not a main street by any stretch, but it is not really friendly to kids playing on it. I guess we would look for a street with more kids and less cars next time, except by that time, our kid will be driving so it will be moot.
Anyhow, much to ponder. But instead of thinking, I am going to go out and throw some iceballs at some passing cars. Or not.