let the children play

Patricia Cohen in the NY Times:

Playspan_2 PROVIDENCE, R.I. — For children, play is easy. You can do it anytime, anywhere, with anyone, and it’s fun. For adults, play is hard. They want to know if it’s safe for their kids, if it’s educational, if it promotes motor coordination, if it’s environmentally friendly, if it will look good on a preschool application.

The tension between how children spend their free time and how adults want them to spend it runs through Howard P. Chudacoff’s new book, “Children at Play: An American History” (New York University Press), like a yellow line smack down the middle of a highway.

“Kids should have their own world, and parents are nuisances,” said Mr. Chudacoff, a professor of history at Brown University.

His critique is increasingly echoed today by parents, educators and children’s advocates who warn that organized activities, overscheduling and excessive amounts of homework are crowding out free time and constricting children’s imaginations and social skills.

“It seems like a really timely book,” said Cindy Dell Clark, a historian at Penn State Delaware County and a consultant to the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia. “We’ve taken a lot of privacy and autonomy out of a child’s day.”

The topic may seem an odd choice for Mr. Chudacoff, 64, given that he has no children of his own, but then again, Mr. Chudacoff is also the author of a book about bachelors (“The Age of the Bachelor,” Princeton University Press, 1999) even though he has been married for nearly 40 years.

More here.