Playing our Way to a Better Democracy: SEL Roots in the Playground

The playground child who engages in unsupervised free play(play without the presence of an intervening adult) learns fundamental social skills such as conflict resolution, appropriate risk taking and perspective taking.

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It all starts on the playground, suggests Haidt and Lukianoff in their recent  The playground child who engages in unsupervised free play(play without the presence of an intervening adult) learns fundamental social skills such as conflict resolution, appropriate risk taking and perspective taking.  Without an adult present, the child is able to take risks, make mistakes, and build and immunity for handling challenging and delicate social interactions.  If we “protect” kids from the small risks and harms of free play, we stunt their ability to handle challenges and recover from failures.  Resiliency is born on the playground.

Haidt and Lukianoff warn us that the adult, who has not experienced this playground practice may be ill equipped with the proper social and emotional skills to perspective take when it comes to discussing politics.  As the article states, play deprivation can lead to a “coarsening of social interaction” that will “create a world of more conflict and violence, and one in which people’s first instinct will be increasingly to invoke coercion by other parties to solve problems they ought to be able to solve themselves.”  Even in this highly contentious political climate, a place where we are often unprotected from the hurtful words and sentiments from others, we need to be able to hear the other side and allow others to express their opinions freely.  Conversation builds community.  We need not to agree with views that are not fundamental to what we believe. Instead, it is imperative we expose ourselves to thoughts and opinions different from what we believe and utilize our skills of active listening, validation, showing empathy and flexible thinking- all important lessons that lend their roots to free play in the playground.