Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Joys of Unstructured Play

There are many example of the French preference for unstructed play time thoughout Bringing Up Bebe. Druckerman tells a story of how when she takes her kids to the park with a French neighbor, the neighbor is appalled that Druckerman has to spend her time supervising the kids. The neighbor instructs Druckerman on how to make it clear to  the kids that they can both play AND behave, thus allowing Druckerman and the neighbor to relaxand have a friendly chat (p219-221).

On Bastille Day, Druckerman takes her daughter to the park. She sees a French parent who has provided her child with a ball. While the child amuses herself with the ball, the parent talks with an adult friend. Druckerman, in contrast, has packed for her daughter "a giant sack of books and toys for her. I spend a lot of the day helping her play with the toys and reading with her." (p. 144). The French girl is evidently able to cope with boredom and is able to amuse herself, while the American child requires constant stimulation from her parent.

Druckerman also tells a story about how on visits to the US, she sees helicopter parents "narrating" every move their child makes as the child moves around the playground. When she talks to Michel Cohen about this, she finds out that he has actually written about this in a negative fashion in his guide to child care as he thinks this overstimulates the child (p. 139). He thinks the parent is filled with guilt,and is trying to prove what a good parent s/he is to the child.

The French mothers interviewed by Druckerman are not big fans of extracurricular acitivites. Most limit their children to one activity per school term. One mother  commented that "You have to leave kids alone, they need to be a bit bored at home, they must have time to play, " she says (p.143). The boredom from the unstructured time forces the child to use his/her inner resources  to entertain him/herself rather than to always depend on an outside source to amuse her/him.

Another mother

 "says that she stopped sending her kids to tennis lessons or anything else, because she found the lessons "constraining".

"Constraining for whom?" I ask.

"Constraining for me," she says." (p. 143)

As a child, my time was relatively unstructured. Provided that I did my homework, my free time was my own. I learned how to amuse myself and how to cope with boredom, as did my siblings; we developed inner resources. These inner resources have come in particularly useful when stuck in subway tunnels for long periods of time, in dull classes, and even sometimes at meetings. They help us to survive adult life, which is not always that obviously stimulating or exciting.

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