Baby Pockets and Adventure Playgrounds

Photo Credit: Karen Arnold

Photo Credit: Karen Arnold

My baby’s clothes have pockets. Remy is now three months old, which does seem like an accomplishment to me, but is he really old enough for pockets? In the early morning hours when I’m feeding him (but also mostly falling asleep), I like to imagine the things that clothing manufacturers must think babies would like to carry in their pockets. Spare pacifiers, mittens, the socks that no baby seems to like carrying on his or her feet. I imagine how excited Remy must have been when he first realized that his pants had real pockets. Only to be crushed by the realization that his (also newly discovered) hands do not yet have the dexterity to pick anything up, let alone maneuver it into a pocket.

When I’m feeling particularly lucid at 3 AM, I also like to read long-form articles sent to me by http://www.nextdraft.com and http://www.longreads.com. They help me feel a bit more connected to the outside world. This week, I read a particularly interesting article from The Atlantic: The Overprotected Kid. In it, Hanna Rosin describes The Land, an adventure playground in the U.K. that lets children take risks and explore. She contrasts The Land with the regulated and standardized (read: boring) playgrounds that have become the norm since the 1980s. She discusses a lot of other interesting things, too, so if you have a few minutes over a few days, I recommend reading it. I also just finished reading (let’s be realistic, listening to) Jonah Lehrer’s book Imagine, How Creativity Works. He takes a more sciencey approach, but has the same message: kids need to take risks in unstructured settings in order to develop creative and inventive thinking.

Clearly, Remy’s pockets were made for far more interesting trinkets: rocks and matches and scraps of paper found on rambling walks through alleyways. He’s not quite ready to go on his own adventures (I suppose he needs to learn how to walk first), and leaving him unsupervised will be difficult for me (a tension both authors address). But I am glad that his tiny pockets are getting me to think about the adventures he might have in the future.

How do you encourage unstructured play for your kids? And how do you address the tension between your child’s need for unsupervised time and the pressure to always supervise him or her?

4 thoughts on “Baby Pockets and Adventure Playgrounds

  1. Pretty sure that freedoms vs risks comes from trial and error (and guilt). They want to walk on top of the fence by themselves, I say no. They bug me until I let them and promise not to fall. Then they fall and I feel guilty for letting them, so next time they ask to do something I say no. Then they bug me until I let them… a vicious cycle – like most of parenting 🙂

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    • I think the falling is an important part of learning for kids. Although, I am starting to understand the vicious cycle part of parenting. 🙂

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  2. As a 32-year old “kid” myself, I find that the best unstructured play I give myself happens when I go on walks or hikes without a particular destination or return time in mind. This is kind of a luxury these days, but when it is possible, it is so refreshing and restorative. Somehow being outdoors and in an environment different from the daily particulars removes the typical boundaries that I usually impose on my thinking. It frees my mind, like my feet, to wander and explore.

    Your post makes me also think about the things I experienced as a kid that helped me grow. I spent a lot of time in the gym doing gymnastics. Although it was a very disciplined and structured activity, it required adventure, courage, and taking personal risks. It also involved a lot of falling. I am very grateful that I learned to fall — it helped me to build physical, emotional, and mental confidence. I am also grateful that parents let me. I’m sure there were many times when my parents inwardly cringed at the bumps and scrapes and narrow misses I had (flashback to that time I got stitches…and the time I hit my head…and all those callouses…) but I’m glad they let me fall and learn through the process. I know they were always there to keep an eye out on me, and I wasn’t trying things in the gym without the supervision of coaches, but if I hadn’t done it “by myself” I wouldn’t have grown in the same way. Trying a new trick in gymnastics always involved, at the initial moment, throwing yourself into the air and going for it. I’m really glad my parents gave me the opportunity to try those things. I fell, but I also flew! My “unstructured play” in the gym –through risk-taking and trying– allowed me to eventually learn a lot of new tricks and how to land on my feet.

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    • Eden, thank you for sharing your story! I like how gymnastics seems to have been a good balance that allowed you to have freedom but that your parents were (mostly) comfortable with. I hope Remy discovers gymnastics or something like it that can help him to grow in the same ways.

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