Like many of my generation, I grew up with quite a bit of freedom by today s standards. I walked to school at a very young age, played with kids in empty construction sites until the sun went down or the dinner bell rang (literally, my mother would hang out of the back door, swinging the bell furiously), and rode my bike as far as I had the inclination to go. Not infrequently, my friends and I stumbled upon dicey situations that compromised our safety. I remember rolling crab apples down a steep hill and into the road in order to experience the pleasure of watching a passing car squash them. Soon the rolling turned to tossing until a passing driver finally reprimanded us. Later in the season, that hill was used for sledding into the road, with kids on the opposite side of the street telling the sledder when the coast was clear.
Today things are different. As just one of many examples, when one of my daughters was about six, she ran down the sidewalk to the end of the block and then ran back to me in tears. There was a man down there who told me to go back home and that I shouldn t be by myself! He was right – and wrong and I was torn.
I ve recently been mulling over an article I recently read in the Atlantic by Hanna Rosin about The Overprotected Kid :
Rosin discusses how the clear distinctions in parenting styles between then and now came to be and asserts that our significant attentiveness to safety today hasn t made much impact on the number of accidents suffered by kids. She also explores the repercussions of over-protecting kids, among them a decrease in creativity.
So how do we provide kids relative safety alongside freedom in exploration The importance of experimenting with the unknown, which sometimes includes reasonable risks, is important to their emotional, psychological and physical development. Rosin examines playground design then and now and the importance of loose parts in a playground setting as a way to stimulate creativity. Loose parts are materials that have numerous possibilities for creativity (which could include rocks, sand, water) unlike the varying forms of computer technologies that significantly decrease tactile and sensory experiences even with their most sophisticated games and apps. With this, I am reminded of the work of Simon Nicholson, an architect in the 1970s, who believed that imagination was enabled in kids by promoting play with loose parts.
Encouraging kids to play and explore with loose parts is a practice we should consider. As an art therapist with children, I find that a few simple pieces of balsa wood can be used to create quite an incredible array of varying executions including a building, a sword and a bridge. Add sand and water and the possibilities multiply into factories, cities, or even unknown landscapes of another world. In addition to loose parts, could children utilize materials and tools that pose reasonable risk Examples include an exacto knife, a hot glue gun or mosaic work with broken glass. Not only is risk-taking exercised in the physical realm, but risks can be emotional as well such as messy or easily breakable materials that pose threats to one s emotional homeostasis.
I like the idea of embracing Nicholson s concept of loose parts in the classroom, therapy office, art studio and at home.
Jean Davis is a licensed creative arts therapist and a registered and board-certified art therapist. She has postgraduate training in group therapy, gestalt therapy and ecopsychology and has over 15 years of experience with a wide variety of populations and in numerous settings. Jean is an Adjunct Associate Professor within Pratt Institute s Graduate Creative Arts Therapy Department. She has published numerous articles in professional journals and she presently serves on the editorial board for the Ecopsychology Journal. For more than a decade, she has maintained a private practice in Brooklyn, New York working with children and adults. To contact Jean Davis, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 917-292-9301.