How Free Play Creates Emotionally Stable Children in an Unstable World


Years ago I ran across this quote by Friedrich Froebel, the father of kindergarten.

A child who plays and works thoroughly, with perseverance, until physical fatigue forbids will surely be a thorough, determined person, capable of self-sacrifice.

Kindergarten was originally designed to nurture creative play, encouraging children to interact with nature and to sing and dance. Today kindergarten is where children learn herd behavior, to sit quietly and take turns. It is little more than an introduction to the constraints of the academic life they are entering. It is a training ground, which is far from its original design.

Children need the freedom to explore the world around them on their own -- to look under rocks, capture butterflies, and allow their minds to wander freely. This has historically been the life of a child. It is how children have learned to take control of their own lives, at least in their own world of fantasy.

While playing, children actively control their games and they are in control of their lives. They can role play and dream. All these activities promote higher thinking skills and a sense of emotional security.

The argument could be made that we live in a different world now. There are predators and kidnappers--not to mention bullies and drug dealers. It is indeed a different world. But one thing hasn't changed in all these years--children's needs.

The fact that we are seeing an epidemic of mental disorders in children of all ages tells us that something is very, very wrong. To fix this there's nothing to buy, and very little to change. In fact, that's part of the beauty of it all. Our children can play and explore with very little parental interference. We don't have to give them more; in reality, most of us need to give them less.

There is enough anxiety and depression to go around in the adult world for very real problems like divorce, job loss, and economic uncertainty, just to name a few. The good news is that these real-world problems don't have to destroy childhood happiness or carry over and create childhood depression.

What this research shows us is that during the Great Depression, World War II, and the volatile decades of the 1960s and 70s, children had far less depression and anxiety than children and adolescents of today.

How is that good news?

It shows us that changes can come from within the child. How a child views the world has far more impact than how the world truly is. All parents, regardless of economic circumstances, can give their children the freedom to explore and play, creating an atmosphere that fosters emotional stability in an unstable world.


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