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Why Our Kids Need Play, Now More Than Ever

Unstructured time allows children to develop creativity and empathy. But too often, it's missing from the schedule.
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"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." It's a folk proverb that was first recorded in English in 1659 (and used to horrific effect in The Shining). Whatever its origin, the truth behind it is self-evident. People who grind away ceaselessly at labor lose their sparkling edge.

And yet play, the old-fashioned kind where kids engage with each other in the physical world and make up the rules as they go along, is harder and harder to come by these days. U.S. schools, under pressure to improve test performance, are increasingly oriented toward a homogenized curriculum that is learned by rote. After grueling schooldays, children are shuttled by automobile from one structured activity to another – if they are from families affluent enough to afford such activities. Many kids live in neighborhoods so dominated by cars that they cannot play safely on the streets or sidewalks near their homes. Parents are terrified by media accounts of stranger abductions (rare though those horrifying incidents are). And so play has steadily eroded.