Friday, June 07, 2024

What Children Need and Love is Freedom

Recently, I found myself in the neighborhood of one of those plastic fantastic fun palaces. There was a mini-golf course complete with the classic windmills and castles, a go-cart track, and a warehouse full of carnival games that issue tickets that one can trade in for crappy prizes. It struck me as a bit depressing, run down and seedy, but based on the high pitched excitement going on around me, the kids disagreed.

This is a place designed to excite children: colorful, fast-paced, and with the promise of hands-on access to long metal sticks that are are to be swung, hard, colorful balls that are to be sent flying, petal-to-the-metal driving, and straight up gambling with someone else's money, not to mention cotton candy, popcorn, ice cream, hotdogs, and the full gambit of forbidden foods. It's a place where yelling, shrieking, laughing, and singing at the top of your lungs is not just permitted, but encouraged, as are running, jumping, and swinging from railings.

I stood watching the go-cart races for a time, or rather, the faces of the giddy, wide-eyed drivers as they zoomed past.

These were the faces of children who had been told "Yes."

It's not like children particularly like mini-golf, go-carts, carnival games, and junk food. I mean, those are fun activities and all, but I think those expressions of joy have far more to do with the fact that these things exist in what is explicitly a hands-on "Yes space." I've see that same wide-eyed giddiness on children playing on Woodland Park's junkyard playground. It's the expression children wear when church services are finally released and they get to run around on the lawn. It's there when children attend a bouncy-house birthday party or hike in the woods or play at a beach. 

It's not the mini-golf, go-carts, carnival games, and junk food that children love: it's the result of adults being distracted enough by their own pleasure to stop peppering them with "No" and "Hands off" and "Be careful" and "Mind your manners."

What children need and love is freedom, and there is far too little of that in our children's lives. It's not difficult to connect mini-golf, go-carts, carnival games, and junk food to adult futures in which freedom is packaged up and sold as vacations, fast cars, gambling, and weekends of brownies and booze. We all love freedom, and there is far too little of it in any of our lives. We take it where we can find it, even if that so-called freedom is sold to us as a gaudy packaged commodity. What would it take to create day-to-day "yes spaces" for not just for the children in your life, but yourself? 

Wherever we find freedom is where we hear "yes." In a world of "no" we need more "yes." It shouldn't be reserved for mini-golf, go-carts, carnival games, and junk food. 


Please join me on Teacher Tom's Podcast for my conversation with Dr. Denisha Jones, director of Defending the Early Years. In this episode we take this discussion even farther as we talk about making preschool into the kind of "yes space" in which children are liberated to gorge not on junk food, but rather to satisfy their own curiosity. As Denish says, "Play is freedom. Play is liberation." To listen to the full thing and to catch other episodes of Teacher Tom's Podcast, click here. You can also find us on Spotify, Apple, or anywhere you download your podcasts.

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