When the world's leaders gather at Davos, they talk about business, society and the future. This year, they took time to talk about a surprising economic priority:
Not play organized by adults (like Little League). Play that the kids make happen. Why is this so important, even to the biggest of Davos bigwigs? Here's what four CEOs — John Goodwin of the Lego Foundation, Paul Polman of Unilever, Jesper Brodin of Ikea and Gary Knell of the National Geographic Society — wrote:
"Research shows that play is vital to a child's development, equipping them with the skills necessary to tackle humanity's future, such as emotional intelligence, creativity and problem solving. To be a superhero is to lead; to host a teddy for tea is to organise; to build a fort is to innovate: to play is to learn."
Yep. To this end, the four organizations have formed the Real Play Coalition to "empower and facilitate children's opportunities to grow and learn through play."
Unfortunately, the group quotes a study saying that 78 percent of parents say the world was safer during their childhood.
Parents may feel that way, but it is not actually true, at least in most places. Harvard's Steven Pinker says we are living in the safest times in human history. Here in the United States, The Washington Post reports, there has never been a safer time to be a child. So first we must fight the misperception that danger abounds, which is brought to us by relentless media attention to the anomalous bad things in the world. (Some call it "mean world syndrome.")
Beyond that — and here is where it's great to have the endorsement of business leaders — parents, schools and society have to understand that play is not a waste of time; it is nature's super-vitamin. When kids play, they learn "teamwork and negotiation skills, allowing them to become more resilient to life's challenges," say the Davos Four.
But many kids are missing out on play as it "becomes less of a priority amid the pressures and distractions of our scheduled, test scored and technology-driven world. Sadly, our belief in the vital importance of play, both in and outside of the classroom, is not shared by as many as we would like. Studies have shown that, over the last 30 years, the time that children spend playing at school is fast reducing. In some countries, as many as two in three children complain that their parents organize too many activities for them outside of school."
This is not just sad — and ironic. It's not good for their economic future or our nation's. In a fast-changing world, kids need to be able to pivot (Silicon Valley's favorite word) from one career to another; that doesn't exist yet. As the Davos guys note, "this means we need to rethink and evolve our education systems ... and our evaluation processes so that the children of tomorrow are poised for what the future may hold. ... The more our children play today, the more prepared future generations will be. Play is needed to endow us with leaders who can resolve conflict, problem solve, build socially connected communities and inspire society to flourish. We are committed to the idea that any child, wherever they are in the world, could be such a leader. Join us in protecting their real play."
Will do! To raise tomorrow's leaders, let them play today. And, Davos? Let Grow, a nonprofit I'm the president of, has launched the Play Club initiative. The idea is to offer time before or after school, on school property, for kids to just play. That way, worried parents know they're safe, and kids have a critical mass of other kids to play with. Your school can start it tomorrow if it chooses. Each of the seven Long Island schools in our Play Club pilot project accepted 100 kids, and there are waiting lists for more kids desperate to play.
Kids want to play. Business leaders want them to play. Parents hoping to raise resilient problem-solvers want them to play. So let's do it!
Race you to the flagpole.
Lenore Skenazy is president of Let Grow, founder of Free-Range Kids and author of "Has the World Gone Skenazy?" To learn more about Lenore Skenazy ([email protected]) and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.