Lately I’ve noticed that the child population of the park abruptly cuts off at a certain age.
My 2-year-old will saddle up to the other 2-year-olds…. My 5-year-old will join a crew of other 5-year-olds in…turning all available sticks into weapons.
But my 8-year-old will often find no one her age and end up hanging off the monkey bars by herself.
Where are the kids?
It turns out they’re all in after-school or weekend programs. Some do coding, some learn another language or take art or music lessons.
My daughter does some of these, too, at least in part because everyone else does and it would be weird not to. But we still leave her a lot of time to do nothing much outside. It’s becoming rarer to find kids her age doing the same.
It’s not just the upper-middle class overscheduling its kids, either. City- and state-funded after-school programs are plentiful in New York City. In fact, Gotham boasts a higher percentage of kids in after-school programming than the rest of the country, with nearly 30 percent of kids participating. And that doesn’t count all of the kids doing classes and lessons outside the official after-school programs.
It’s not just for babysitting, either. After-school programs for middle schoolers were an important part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s re-election campaign, and his launch of School’s Out New York City was an unprecedented expansion of after-school programs here.
“Learning shouldn’t stop when the school bell rings,” the mayor said, adding that the program would “keep our kids off the streets and out of trouble between the hours of 3 and 6 p.m.”
What a pessimistic view of kids! The idea that they are only learning when they’re in class defies reality. How many kids learn the things they’re really passionate about — cooking, science, skateboarding — exclusively (or even mostly) in a classroom?
Let Grow co-founder Peter Gray talks about growing up with kids who were failing math but could instantly update baseball statistics. How come? Because to them it was play.
If we as a society are consumed with extracurriculars, let’s do our kids a favor and make one of the options free play: Play where kids organize their fun without adults directing them. Make it an after-school option like soccer or chess. A Let Grow Play Club.
It’s not quite the park. But the park isn’t quite the park anymore either. – L
P.S. That picture at the top of the blog is a Let Grow Play Club at the Tremont School on Long Island. Wouldn’t your kids love something like that? – L