Play Declines, Sensory Disorders Climb

Life as a kid has changed dramatically in the last 40 years. Kids are rarely allowed to play outside by themselves, and even indoors, play is directed by adults and aimed at learning. Kids just don’t learn to entertain themselves anymore. Pre-school used to be playing together and socializing, learning games and singing, playing with play dough and building forts and spending time at the park while going for a walk. Now it is isn’t pre-school is is beginning of being schooled. It is about learning letters, numbers, sitting quietly, memorizing, and often learning to read. Even when it is done at home, it isn’t free play. There has been a cost to this.

Angela Hanscomb is a pediatric occupational therapist. She sees a rapidly rising number of young children with sensory disorders and problems sitting still. She sees kids who can’t control their emotions, relate to other children, have poor spacial recognition, and bump into things and each other because they don’t recognize where they are in space. Angela’s newest post should be a wake up call to parents and schools.

I still recall the days of preschool for my oldest daughter. I remember wanting to desperately enrich her life in any way possible – to give her an edge before she even got to formal schooling. I put her in a preschool that was academic in nature – the focus on pre-reading, writing, and math skills. At home, I bought her special puzzles, set up organized play dates with children her age, read to her every night, signed her up for music lessons, put her in dance, and drove her to local museums. My friends and I even did “enrichment classes” with our kids to practice sorting, coloring, counting, numbers, letters, and yes….even to practice sitting! We thought this would help prepare them for kindergarten.

Like many other American parents, I had an obsession: academic success for my child. Only, I was going about it completely wrong. Yes, my daughter would later go on to test above average with her academic skills, but she was missing important life skills. Skills that should have been in place and nurtured during the preschool years. My wake-up call was when the preschool teacher came up to me and said, “Your daughter is doing well academically. In fact, I’d say she exceeds expectations in these areas. But she is having trouble with basic social skills like sharing and taking turns.” Not only that, but my daughter was also having trouble controlling her emotions, developed anxiety and sensory issues, and had trouble simply playing by herself!

Little did I know at the time, but my daughter was far from being the only one struggling with social and sensory issues at such a young age. This was becoming a growing epidemic.

The skills of being in a space and developing strong balance and coordination come from spending time a young children outdoors on uneven ground, various play structures, and physically experiencing the world.

Angela has a lot more to say. Check out the rest here. Thanks, Angela, for sharing your wisdom with us.

Angela Hanscom is the founder of TimberNook, a nature-based development program designed to foster creativity and independent play outdoors in New England.

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