This morning on NPR, a story aired about the history of play entitled "Old Fashioned Play Builds Serious Skills" that featured an interview with Howard Chudacoff, a cultural historian at Brown University. Chudacoff suggests that a single day in history, October 3, 1955 -- forever changed the way children play. It was on that afternoon that the first installment of The Mickey Mouse Club aired on television in homes across these great United States. The show quickly became a cultural icon (Who's the leader of the club that's made for you and me?) defining an era in all things pop culture. "
The show was also an important milestone in children's marketing as it allowed toy makers, for the first time, to directly target children using the multi-sensory phenomenon that was black and white television. Of course, today, Mickey has his own media empire complete with not one but dozens (maybe hundreds) of television, radio and Internet channels on demand.
"It's interesting to me that when we talk about play today, the first thing that comes to mind are toys," says Chudacoff. "Whereas when I would think of play in the 19th century, I would think of activity rather than an object."
The NPR story goes on to examine how "play" has changed since the 1950's and cites all sorts of factors that have impacted everything from brain development to creativity and time-management. They even take on organized sports and recreation. Chudacoff says that as "parents became increasingly concerned about safety, they were driven to create play environments that were secure and could not be penetrated by threats of the outside world. Karate classes, gymnastics, summer camps — these create safe environments for children, Chudacoff says. And they also do something more: for middle-class parents increasingly worried about achievement, they offer to enrich a child's mind."
After reading the article and listening to the story I wasn't sure whether Chudacoff considers public parks and recreation part of the "commercialization of play." The article doesn't mention the positive value of playgrounds and play structures as a place where children can use gross motor skills to explore, learn, discover and build self confidence.
Also, I think we all need to tell researchers like Chudacoff that there are experienced, enthusiastic college-educated recreation professionals, parks and playground designers who already know that play, for children, is much more than fun and games -- When it comes to play -- THE BENEFITS ARE ENDLESS!
How do you encourage creativity at your children's programs? How will you let children develop their minds as they develop their own playful activities and games. Tell your story at COMMENTS below and I'll be sure to share it with NPR AND the researchers involved with the story.