Kids are our greatest teachers. I strongly believe this. We learn what we ought to live for through them, we learn through them how to take care of ourselves and each other, and they are constant reminders not to take life too seriously. Children are our most precious resource.
In believing this, I’ve come to realize we can also gain a tremendous amount of wisdom from playgrounds. If that sounds odd, just bear with me.
A while ago, I wrote a post called School is Stupid. In it, I explained how recess for kids needs to be taken more seriously. Recess needs to be considered the most important part of school. It’s the same reason why on-the-job learning (apprenticeship) is always going to be superior to college lectures on how to learn a difficult job. Recess is a chance for children to learn through experience. It is time for children to develop social skills, to develop problem solving skills, and to even gain economic understanding. Virtually everything you can think of that kids need to know they can learn through playing on a playground.
Animals play with each other for a reason. ‘Playtime’ is not a human concept, it is something all mammals do. Kids have a need for it, because their development itself has a need for it. Do you think a kid is more likely to fully understand what’s dangerous by just telling them, or if they experience or see dangers for themselves? Will they know how to make friends by being taught, or by trying it? I could go on.
Since socialism, an economic system, is such a hot topic now, I want to take this opportunity to explain what playgrounds can teach us about economics in general.
When I was a kid, and maybe this is true for all kids of any time period, we had ‘economies’ on the playground. The playground economy centered around Pokemon cards and yoyos. The goal with these items was not just to have the best of them, but also a lot of them. We acquired cards through trade. Nobody earned any cards by crying about it. If you had nothing to trade, you had nothing to gain. And Pokemon cards were more than just trade items, they were also used for competition. You had to have the best Pokemon to win. But, sometimes even if you had the best Pokemon, your opponent could have the same ones … so now how are you going to win? Strategy. We could develop winning strategies, or we could try to cheat. Sometimes cheating worked, sometimes it got you in trouble with the other kids.
I wasn’t allowed to have Pokemon cards. My foster parents didn’t allow it, and even though my adoptive parents allowed it, they put me in a private Christian school that prohibited anything related to Pokemon altogether. But still, when Pokemon as a franchise first came onto the scene, and I was able to watch kids trading them and competing with them, I still learned from these things as if I was part of the action.
This is why it’s important to let kids be kids.
As for socialism and playgrounds… Imagine if every kid on the playground had to have the same number of cards no matter what? Would kids still have a drive to play and trade the cards? Yes, but not nearly as much. The cards become useless when nobody is allowed to win or lose. Not to mention, everyone’s happiness level would plummet. Being motivated to win, learning lessons from losing, and being rewarded for winning, are all essential things for a happy existence, and not to mention, they’re essential for a thriving economy.
The popularity of Pokemon fluctuated. Like I said, yoyos were the basis for the playground economy. Sometimes it’s this, sometimes it’s that. Just like in real life, market demands change. New things are introduced and everyone has to adapt. The kids who were great at Pokemon probably sucked at playing with yoyos, and vice-versa. Like in the adult world, IBM was the ruling technology company, to the point everyone thought they were Big Brother, but in just a couple decades, IBM was shoved aside for Google and Facebook.
Again, this is why it’s important to let kids be kids. Let them fail, let them win, and above all, let them compete. Yes, feelings will get hurt, injuries will be had, there will be good days, and there will be bad days. When you let kids play, you let kids learn with real experience.