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Silken Laumann’s Child’s Play

February 12th, 2007

I finally got around to reading Child’s Play, Olympic rower Silken Laumann’s book on the need to get our children moving.

While I agree with the sentiment in the book, there’s a problem. The main thesis is that children need, and are not getting, enough unstructured play time. I couldn’t agree more, and the first fifty pages of this book are dedicated to this theme. The next two hundred pages, however, are dedicated to ways we can structure more play into our child’s lives. The solution never seems to be let the kids out, send them to the back yard, and stop nagging them. The solution is, more PE time in schools, governments must do more, organize a Play in the Park program in your local playground. All fine ideas, by the way, but all structured.

A year or more ago I read Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. In it, Louv speaks about children’s need for creative play by themselves. How their minds and bodies develop by exploring their environment and figuring it out for themselves. How kids, in doing what we used to consider natural kid things, going off to the woods by themselves or building a fort develop and learn about the world around them. Now, of course, we stop them from doing so. Now, of course, there’s a childhood obesity epidemic.

This was the same premise that Laumann’s book was built on, but Laumann comes up short of advocating giving your kids some freedom letting them play by themselves for themselves. It’s too bad, because I suspect she could have made the case for it.

One large area of the book was Laumann’s insistence our kids need more gym time. The academics are fine, but what about their bodies? Problem is, she never gets around to what should be dropped from the curriculum. I know of many in the music community, for example, who are also agitating for more time in schools. They are armed with studies that a music education improves brain functioning, spatial reasoning &tc. They too have a good argument. But Laumann is also in favour of less homework. However, if you drop academic time out of the classroom, won’t the kids have more homework? Won’t they have less independent play time? And that ultimately, is the problem with this book. It’s full of good ideas, but ignores the real roadblocks to implementation. It advocates for less structure, and asks that the governments provide it.

All that stated, this book is still a worthwhile read. If you have children, do yourself a favour and rent it from your library, even better, buy it. There are important points in here, and it will get you thinking about what you can do better for your children. It will, I repeat, get you thinking. What more praise can you place on a book?

I have long quoted a Silken Laumann quote (paraphrase actually) on this blog. Here’s the actual paragraph and a bit (note: emphasis is Laumann’s):

We go through extraordinary effort and worry to keep our children safe.

But somehow, we are not keeping our children safe. They are dying of heart disease and diabetes; they are being prescribed anti-depressants far more often than they were ten years ago. Their little bodies are not accruing healthy bone to the levels that will make them strong adults. We must see that this is a crisis for our children, that this is about so much more than a few kids who need to lose weight. This crisis is about a generation of children who will not experience their potential, physically, mentally and spiritually…

Visit Silken Laumann’s Active Kids, the companion website to the book.


  1. Anonymous
    February 12th, 2007 at 14:42 | #1

    What can we expect from a failed athlete who the system has rewarded so well – a treatse on socialism veiled as 21st century middle class parental angst.
    (real conservative)

  2. Anonymous
    February 12th, 2007 at 15:19 | #2

    When I was young, we were allowed to do what kids do….play, make up our own games, fight, play, make up our own games…:-)

    Parents didn’t need to be “told” to let their children play. Now did they need a book. Nor did we have more gym time. I grew up in a small town, and perhaps that’s the difference. We were basically safe, could ride our bikes everywhere, played in back alleys, etc.

    Living in the city as an adult my whole life, it’s sad to hear kids make “play dates” and then get together and play the latest computer/video game. That’s all they know though, because that’s all their parents introduced them to.

    Glad I grew up where I did.

  3. Brian
    February 13th, 2007 at 10:13 | #3

    Glad I grew up where I did.

    Glad I grew up when I did!

  4. Brian
    February 13th, 2007 at 10:15 | #4

    What can we expect from a failed athlete who the system has rewarded so well – a treatise on socialism veiled as 21st century middle class parental angst.

    She started off so well too, that was the disappointing thing. It’s a judgement on our times when supposedly thoughtful people can recommend programs to solve the problem of too many programs.

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