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Games Children Play

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

My recent time at camp was a growthful one and I foresee several more entries about my experience before we are all said and done.

A troubling fact was shared with me concerning today’s generation and their inability to handle unstructured time.

When I was a kid at camp, the daily schedule resembled something like this:

8:00-8:30am Morning T’fillah (prayers)
8:30-9:00am Aruchat Boker (breakfast)
9:00-10:00am Morning program
10:00-12:00 noon Chugim (electives)
12:00-1:00 pm Aruchat Tzohoraim (lunch) and song session
1:00-2:00pm M’nucha (rest hour)
2:00-4:00pm Chofesh (free choice)
4:15-5:15pm Shower hour
5:25-5:55pm Evening T’fillah (prayer)
6:00-7:00pm Aruchat Erev (dinner) and song session
7:00-9:30pm Evening Program
9:45pm Closing Circle
10:00pm Laila Tov (“lights out!”)

A schedule with plenty of time for flexibility. Perfect for kids.

But something has changed. Kids are no longer equipped to handle large blocks of unstructured time. Every moment must be scheduled for them because when faced with free time, they are at a complete and total loss. In fact, the staff reported that the amount of unscheduled evening time was causing (not relieving) stress.

What has changed? For starters, at least 40% of all schools have eliminated (or are attempting to eliminate) recess from the school day. The increase of childhood obesity and its related health concernse (such as Type II diabetes, high cholesterol, and asthma) can be directly tied to the decrease in physical activity of our children. It’s in the news frequently. What is not mentioned is that along with the physical health concerns that arise from the lack of activity is the stunted psychological and emotional development of kids who do not have enough time to play.

Jean Piaget defines imaginitive play as “a symbolic transposition which subjects things to the child’s activity, without rules or limitations.” This allows the child to safely assert control over situations that mimic real life. In her essay “The Role of Play in the Development of Thought,” author Loraine McCune contends that “the capacity for consciousness of self and others arises from developing representational and perceptual activities, especially during play.” Again supporting the idea that a child will learn how to properly negotiate social situations as a result of unfettered play which is supported by developmental psychologist Dr. Hans Furth wrote about the ways in which play prepares children for societal norms.

In other words, all those hours of dress-up, cops-and-robbers, and doctor were necessary in our development as social beings.

Imaginitve play is important for other reasons. It can provide a safe environment in which kids can work through their fears.

Case in point: as a young girl, I used to play Holocaust with my younger sister (who shall remain nameless because she thinks people will think we are weird. Should I tell her that they probably think that anyway…and this isn’t going to make or break that notion? Nah.).

How does one “play” Holocaust? We would each pack one small rucksack and then hide in the closet. For hours. Without making a sound.

And we’re not even Second Generation because (thank God) our family had already come to America before the Shoah (“catastrophe” — the Hebrew word to describe the Holocaust). But the collective memory of our people’s tragic past left an indelible mark on our young psyches and it was through our play that we were able to come to terms with the reality that had we been born in a slightly different time and in a slightly different place…

A great deal of research has been done on the stages of development and the role that imaginative play has on them. Piaget believed that children take a very active part in
their growth and acquisition of intelligence, which he defined as “an individual’s ability to
deal with the world based on how they mentally process their experiences.”

My children made up a new game. It is called “Visiting the Poor.” Poppyseed dresses up as a rich lady with lots of money in her purse. Beernut gets into bed and pretends to be a poor man on his deathbed. Poppyseed come to his home to make him feel better and to give him tzedakah.

Wonder what Piaget would have to say about this?

12 Comments leave one →
  1. Wednesday, 27 August 2008 2:47 am

    giving tzedakah is great education for kids. yasher koach. now, in real life, teach them about “mitzvah heroes” so they can really learn about how to give out tzedakah!

    read more at:
    and maybe some books by danny siegel (

    arnie draiman

  2. Wednesday, 27 August 2008 8:40 am

    I hear what you are saying. Some of the parents of my children’s friends do things that make me insane. Namely they never allow their children to fail.

    Now to be clear I see plenty of reasons why we should help our children so that they do not fail all of the time. There is no reason why we should allow their egos and sense of self worth to be destroyed.

    But if we do not teach them coping skills we fail them. If they can’t figure out how to overcome adversity without us, what will happen to them.

  3. Wednesday, 27 August 2008 4:53 pm

    At camp this summer, the camp director remarked to me that the first Shabbat is always the most difficult – especially for the youngest campers. Why? Because it’s the first time since they arrived that they have a large chunk of chofesh (free time).

  4. Wednesday, 27 August 2008 6:14 pm

    Many of today’s children are not allowed to have chunks of unstructured time, either by their school or their parents. They are scheduled, scheduled,scheduled. When nothing is on the schedule, they sit passively in front of the TV or computer and wait to be told what to do next. They do tend to get anxious because they don’t know what to do. How sad! How can they develop creatively without that “free” time?

  5. Steve permalink
    Wednesday, 27 August 2008 6:38 pm

    How old were you and your sister when you played Holocaust?

  6. Wednesday, 27 August 2008 7:13 pm

    i totally agree with you…in fact, we have to structure shabbat chofesh for the younger campers because of just what babkanosher says…and we have to worry about what mischief the older campers are making!!!

  7. Lael permalink
    Thursday, 28 August 2008 9:48 am

    I’m doing a stint at the university here in the department of Student Services. Their most recent newsletter has several articles on this newest generation of kids who have been given the name “Millennials.” The campus held a conference on this topic last fall, because their characteristics will greatly change the nature and infrastructure of universities and I assume other public places. The peak year for millennials in the universities is supposed to be 2010.

    From this newsletter, some of their characteristics are:
    1) team oriented and like to be part of a group, rather than do projects on their own.
    2) rarely left unsupervised by parents or other care givers beginning as young children; used to structured and supervised activities and are comfortable with authority/parental involvement in all aspects of their lives. They expect parents and university employees to resolve their conflicts.
    3) have been pushed to succeed and feel the pressure; used to filling every hour of their day with scheduled activities; efficient at multi-tasking, but have challenges with time management and zero tolerance for delays or idle time.

    But wait, there’s more o:) If you want, I will mail this to you or bring it the next time I see you. Or I’m sure if you google ‘millennials’ you’ll come up with a lot.

    While a perhaps the above is somewhat of a generalization, still this is interesting to me. When my 16 year old niece got her driver’s license two weeks ago and was allowed to drive alone for the first time, she came home and told my sister she was lonely. Such a different reaction than I could ever remember feeling when I was finally able to drive!!

  8. JockBro permalink
    Thursday, 28 August 2008 2:03 pm

    I remember planning BBYO weekends and the kids were pissed that they didn’t have more “chill time.” Of course by that age all that meant was “hook up time.” But the fact is kids–young and adolescent–know themselves far better than we give them credit for.

  9. Friday, 29 August 2008 9:35 am

    I remember hating having too much time planned out for me – it didn’t let me play.

    I’ve got an award for you at my blog!

  10. Frume Sarah permalink*
    Sunday, 31 August 2008 12:45 pm

    Arnie — My kids do engage in acts of tzedakah on a regular basis — not just for pretend. And I am always seeking new role models so thanks for the link!

    Jack — you are right on the money. I’m guessing that you’ve read Wendy Mogel’s “Blessing of a Skinned Knee” and agreed with most of it!!

    BN — Weekly chofesh is one of the benefits of being Jewish 🙂

    Irene — My point exactly. It is for this reason that we refrain from involving the frumettes in afterschool activities. That and the fact they aren’t athletic or otherwise talented.

    Steve — How old when we first started playing it or how old when we stopped?

    Phyllis — oy! Do they have the NFTY scoring at your camp too??

    Lael — boy, we are in trouble!

    JockBro — they know what they want insofar as they know what makes them comfortable. But I worry about a generation of kids who are uncomfortable not having every moment schedule simply because they don’t know how to just be.

  11. Sunday, 31 August 2008 2:07 pm

    As a kid I attended a camp that sounds exceedingly similar to yours. I clearly remember all the free time, and honestly, not always knowing what to do with it, but definitely knowing that if I couldn’t find a way to fill it, with all the millions of options available (not the least of which was just hanging out exploration the bugs and the dirt, both of which there was plenty!), then it was my problem.

    I remember those days happily, that’s for sure!

  12. Steve permalink
    Sunday, 31 August 2008 3:48 pm


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