DadNCharge -- Playdates Are Not The Problem!

posted on July 31, 2014 12:50pm by Meryl
First off, let me say I love DadNCharge. How could you not love and respect a guy who is man enough to stay and raise his three children while his wife braves the corporate world? And he's a former teacher to boot!
But I disagree with his recent blog post urging parents to Banish the Playdate. The post has been picked up everywhere and I'm worried that it might lead to a further decline in playtime for children. Most of his underlying points are near and dear to my heart and the same ideas that I champion regularly. He says:
Kids have lost the spontaneity of play.
Kids don't know how to entertain themselves any more.
Kids can't think outside of the box because they are so used to being entertained and having their "play handed to them on a silver platter."
And, perhaps most importantly of all, he says: "Kids are at their best when their imaginations are in play. We are dumbing down their ability to be independent thinkers with scheduled activity and feeling like we are to blame when they have 'nothing to do.'"
I could not agree more with all of the above. In fact, I could have written those same lines myself. What I take issue with is his misplaced assumption that the above changes are a result of the rise of the playdate.
Unstructured play for children has declined about 8 hours a week in the last 20 years. This decline may be linked to: a rise in children feeling more depressed and anxious than at any prior time in our nation's history; a decline in creativity scores; a decline in resilience; and a rising school drop-out and expulsion rate (even in pre-schools), especially for boys. And this is especially unfortunate because our economy right now is fueled by innovation and we need to be raising children who can think, as DadNCharge puts it, "outside of the box."
Why has play declined? It's a combination of a host of factors:
·                A rise in the consumption of electronic media
·                Schools reducing or eliminating recess
·                Working parents and single parents not having the ability to supervise unstructured play
·                An increased fear in letting children play freely without supervision
·                An increase in time spent doing organized activities
I believe playdates have increased as a response to these factors. They are not the cause. As a play expert, I always advise parents that if their children have friends in the neighborhood, they should open the door and send their little ones outside to play. I agree with DadNCharge that we need to give our children more freedom and I subscribe to the Free Range Kids philosophy of Lenore Skenazy. Our children are safer than ever before, but the media reporting of abductions and pedophiles leaves many parents uncomfortable.
Even If a parent does feel safe sending his/her child outside to play, in today's world your child is unlikely to find somebody at home to play with. Most of the child's peers will be at soccer practice, violin lessons, doing homework, or off getting an edge in some academic enrichment center.
For many parents, a playdate, as contrived and unnatural as that may seem, is the only way to make sure that your child does get the unstructured playtime so critical for healthy development.
But, if you are planning a playdate, I agree with DadNCharge that it shouldn't involve "preparing a cheese plate and some activity" and definitely no "fabulous parting gift." And DadNCharge, if you do host a playdate, you should definitely be able to spend that time catching up on work or just relaxing and you should not be "planning some elaborate craft."
Perhaps, your kiddos have been to some way out there playdates. But here's what I would advise:
·                If your child is old enough to make the phone call, encourage him to extend the playdate invite himself.
·                Go over some simple ground rules before your child hosts a playdate, perhaps have her think about some possible activities or games to do with her friend in advance, and then stay out of the way as much as possible.
·                Your idea, DadNCharge, to pull weeds in the backyard while the kids play on the swing set sounds like an awesome playdate! And turning on the sprinkler gives you an extra gold star!
·                A playdate does not, and should not, be an event!
·                Unless the parents are friends or the children are really young, the drop-off parent should not plan on hanging out.
·                Playdates should be reciprocated. If someone hosts your child, think about a time you can do the hosting and give that other parent a break.
In short, I think you've had some bad playdate encounters, DadNCharge. A playdate is just a fancy word for a scheduled time for play. The word date shouldn't connote cheese platters and a stained glass window craft. It just signifies a slot on your calendar because for many children without that bit of scheduling help, he or she is not going to get any playtime with friends at all.
And as for the "back and forth emails about your plans," I have a suggestion for that. My partner (who I played kickball and capture the flag and all sorts of imaginary games with in my childhood back in the good ole days) and I created Playdate Planet to take care of all those hassles. Dads love our site because they can avoid phone calls and e-mails altogether. It gets the job done with just a few clicks. If you want to suggest a playdate at your child's friend's house, you can do that! If you'll be serving a cheese plate (which we do not recommend), you can let the invitee know that as well.
If you are ever in Columbus with your family, Chris, I hope you will look me up and we can all play together. I'm a miserable cook and not a big fan of cheese, but the kids can play at the park across the street and the grown-ups can enjoy a glass of wine in the back yard!




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