Children who play are facing two huge threats to their future survival. Firstly, they are losing their natural habitat known as the Jungle Gym. Secondly, a feral species known as Parents are taking over their way of life. The Jungle Gym is an environment where juvenile Homo sapiens are free to explore. For a short time they are free from the shackles of urban living and bossy adults. This loss of territory and the invasive species is resulting in a loss of fun and more importantly, weak and sick children.
The Jungle Gym is a place where children can learn to risk assess. There is an internal dialogue of, ‘is that safe?’ or ‘I’ve completed this challenge so now I’m ready for that...’ This is real-world stuff. If children can make smart decisions like crossing the road or predicting danger then their future survival is guaranteed. Unfortunately, parents in their blind love are taking over from this critical process. Their liberal use of safety signs, rules, anti-bacterial sanitizer is rapidly resulting in obese and diseased children. As parents we need to learn to step away and let our kids be free. Of course, there is a risk of a broken bone but the risk of death on a playground is the same as the home, 30 million to one₁. I’m willing to take that risk with my son. More time spent in the trenches of play results in smarter and safer kids.
Social smarts is another important skill gained in the Jungle Gym. Problem-solving with a work colleague or sharing resources are skills learned in childhood. Academic success may get us in the door but a high level of social awareness will enable us to continue up the corporate ladder. Future prediction: those kids today with great societal acumen will be the most desired employees in the future. In an era of the screen and tablet, we are facing a communication epidemic. People are struggling to convey clarity in their words while those receiving, cannot listen for more than a minute without being bored. At the end of this read, watch the great TED Talk on communication by Julian Treasure (see below).
Some nations are investing heavily in new playgrounds and this will have a huge social, economic and health benefit to their future generation. They believe that play is a critical component of development. Unfortunately, there are other populations where academic success is the only focus. These kids become ‘book-smart’ and ‘life-dumb’. The balance is well out of proportion, and the result is rebellious and anti-social children. Unfortunately, I see this on a daily basis in the Middle East. The great news is that it is never too late to get started. Allocate physical play time on a daily basis and develop risk assessment, socializing and lots of fun. If your child has been separated from their natural biome for a long period, it may take some time for them to fully adapt but it will happen. Support children who play by preserving their habitat and keeping ‘ball and chain’ parents away from the good times.