"An adult has more power over a child in a confined space than in an unconfined one, and children, senses on the qui-vive, know this. (As do bullying or abusive adults.) Children can bitterly resent their loss of power when they are detained, interned, enclosed indoors, and many respond to being caged as any self-respecting animal does: with a rise in aggression and a wish to escape. What crime of ebullience or offence of exuberance have children committed which is so terrible that they must be in prison? The crime of being young." - A Country Called Childhood, by Jay Griffiths (p. 209).
If the increasing enclosure and standardization of childhood is one of the biggest moral issues of our time, as I suggest, then what can we as parents do about it? It turns out, a lot. Whether or not a child goes to school, there are many ways that a parent can cultivate an unenclosed childhood.
An Unenclosed State-of-Mind
The first step is to prioritize free, open, unstructured play for children, preferably outside in the natural world. Supervised or not, allowing children the freedom to explore their world, to dig and discover and dream without adult interference, is a gift to our children. As we come to value granting our children an unenclosed childhood, then our actions follow and we seek ways to provide this freedom.
Once weekends are free and clear, begin to work on weekdays, reducing structured, adult-led activities to allow far more abundant blocks of free time for children. As Kim John Payne, author of Simplicity Parenting, states: "With simplification we can bring an infusion of inspiration to our daily lives; set a tone that honors our families' needs before the world's demands. Allow our hopes for our children to outweigh our fears. Realign our lives with our dreams for our family, and our hopes for what childhood could and should be."
Summer is the season of childhood. Design a summer for children that is entirely unenclosed, limiting or avoiding entirely any classes, camps, or structured activities. Grant them time outside, in nature, to wander and explore. Let go of expectations and demands. Allow them to simply be in the natural world, in the summer sun, playing and growing.
Once we have prioritized unenclosed, unstructured time and space for our children to naturally learn and grow, the final step is to think beyond our children, our family, to identify simple actions to once again fill our neighborhoods with freely-playing children. Plan a block party. Become involved, or create, a neighborhood association with a stated mission of welcoming children into our public spaces. Seek other like-minded families who value unenclosed, free play for children and meet regularly to showcase free play in your community. Gather with neighborhood families to designate a day or afternoon (or several!) each week as neighborhood free-play time. Be a leader: advocate for the importance of an unenclosed childhood and become a model for others to follow.
If the increasing enclosure and standardization of childhood is one of the biggest moral issues of our time, then it is our responsibility to take action: to halt the growing confinement of children and seek ways to preserve their wide-open, unstructured, unenclosed play.