The War on Fun—How Modern Culture is KILLING Creativity

Moi with the AWESOME Chuck Wendig...

Moi with the AWESOME Chuck Wendig…

Since homeschooling The Spawn, life has shifted dramatically as I struggle along this uncharted learning curve. For instance, it is a gorgeous summer this year. I’ve lived in Texas most of my life and never witnessed weather so balmy and beautiful. This morning, I step out to let the dog go bark at every thought scuttling through her brain (instead of going pee) and it’s oddly quiet. No kids. No squeals of riding bikes or rollerskating or plundering trash piles for construction materials for some ramp or fort or weapon.

When a Kid Could Be a Kid

When I was Spawn’s age, the second cartoons were over, we’d have been out the door for the entire day…willingly. Even though it was always triple-digit heat. Weather like THIS? We might have skipped the cartoons.

Okay, we’d have watched the good ones and not hung on for the crappy kiddie shows.

I’ve started to pay more attention now that I have my son home all day. The other mothers? Working moms have kids in daycare full-time. But even the Stay-At-Home Moms befuddle me. It’s as if they’re the Carnival Cruise Activity Director all summer. They take the kid(s) to the gym to play two hours, then gym camp, then swimming lessons, then karate, then multiple play dates across the city then church camp and voice lessons and Sylvan….

My head is spinning.

And so much of it is college-prep stuff. Like, preschool isn’t just playing and learning lessons like “hitting and eating glue is bad for one’s social life.” PRE-K is preparation for “real school”, which is part of why Spawn was fired. His imagination was far less valuable than reading retention. HE IS FOUR.

Screen Shot 2014-05-08 at 12.57.58 PM

Every other game out there is “educational.” Summer is no longer even summer. We used to have THREE MONTHS off to simply be kids and play. Now? There are learning centers lurking on every corner chanting things like, “You wouldn’t want your kids to be behind, would you? You aren’t a BAD parent. Not YOU….”

In the early 80s, my mom could keep a clean home, cook all our meals, cultivate a beautiful garden and sew our clothes because my tail was outside and I had little brother in tow as soon as he was close-enough-for-government-work potty trained. My mom spent time with us, but not every waking moment. We played our guts out every day after school for hours and solidly for three months a year. Sure, after vacation, we had to catch up some in September, but I still graduated college with honors and so did Little Bro.

In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the literacy rates were higher back then.

What Happened to PLAY?

Play comes naturally to humans. Just watch the glee on a baby’s face when he discovers OMG I HAVE TOES! THEY FIT IN MY MOUTH!

I recall all the things I used to do as a child for FUN—write, read, draw, color, roller-skate, dance, play make-believe, do cartwheels. And I’d just bust out dancing or doing the splits anywhere and it was okay. I was a kid.

I’m no longer allowed back in Home Depot *hangs head*



I really was kicked out of a Toys ‘R Us one time for racing through the store aisles on a Hoppity Hop.

Remember ME?

Remember ME?

My art and writing were all encouraged until I hit about the age of ten. Then I needed to start being serious. I had adults asking me where I wanted to go to college, what I wanted to do with my life when I grew up. Teachers asking me this.

Of course, me being me, I said I wanted to be a rich man’s wife. And Mom was promptly called up to school. Sarcasm wasn’t appreciated then either.

But WTH? I was TEN and that was a dumb question. Most adults still don’t know what THEY want to be when they grow up an yet they put that off of a kid? And there is an “acceptable” answer. When I said I wanted to be a writer, that was cute.

Now what was I going to do to earn money?

As we grow older, play is demonized, called trivial and labeled foolish and unnecessary. Yet, studies in neuroscience have demonstrated that play, “leads to brain plasticity, adaptability, and creativity…Nothing fires up the brain like play.” ~Stuart Brown, Play is More than Fun, TED Talk.

I’m reading a cool new book called, Essentialism—The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (and am learning a lot about what I’ve been doing wrong or even right).

The word school is derived from the Greek word schole, meaning “leisure.” Yet, our modern school system, born in the Industrial Revolution, has removed much of the leisure—and much of the pleasure—out of learning. ~Author Greg McKeown, Essentialism, page 84.

We’ve talked about this on my blog before, how our public schools were designed for the main purpose of training future  factory workers. The Industrial Revolution was all about efficiency and mass production. Educational institutions patterned much of their structure from the military. As McKeown points out, we even see military vocabulary in our workplace. In the trenches. On the front lines. Even the word company is a military term for a military unit (McKeown, page 85).

A Changing World

So here we have this school structure that is designed to produce a force for manufacturing when most manufacturing has largely been outsourced to developing countries. If we are to have any economic future, it will come from fields requiring imagination—computers, programming, art, writing, design, etc.

Yet, most of the school activities that foster imagination are the first on the cutting block—art, music, drama, band, recess. We even have new schools being built with no playgrounds.

Even when there is play, it seems it is never just for the sake of play. Kids are learning piano or playing football not because it is fun, but because “they could one day use that to pay for COLLEGE.”

Many of the greatest human innovations have been birthed from leisure and play. Shakespeare played constantly with iambic pentameter. DaVinci was known to be a flake who’d run off chasing butterflies or tinkering with machines instead of finishing his paid “job.” Newton uncovered the Law of Gravity while resting.

Our most successful companies—Google, Pixar, Apple—encourage play and rest. So why then do we have SO many companies who measure keystrokes and phone calls and enslave employees to metrics?

And while we are doing everything possible to kill imagination and play and vilify vacations and rest, we simultaneously wonder why we’re losing our edge?

The Power of Play

Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 10.42.44 AM

Play has all these great benefits to the brain. Why? One big reason is play is AMAZING at reducing stress. When we’re stressed, our body defaults to reptile brain. It’s impossible to use higher thinking centers because the brain is in survival mode.

Yet, instead of doing some cartwheels, we chug energy drinks and coffee and work later into the night to “catch up.” We sacrifice sleep and play first. Then, we’re foggy-headed and disorganized. So we drink some more caffeine because naps are anathema and play is a pariah.

And the cycle continues…

We’ve created this culture that prides itself on getting no sleep and taking no time off. Even our words reflect our values.

I LOVE cleaning house, because I make everything a game and always have. I set timers and see if I can clean ALL the dishes before the buzzer goes off. I dance with the mop. I “race” Spawn picking up toys.

But we call them “chores” and wonder why everyone groans. We go to the gym to “work out” then are befuddled why we resist. I do Brazilian Jui-Jitsu because it’s FUN. I used to wrestle and play-fight as a kid. I’m not at a dojo to eventually make money competing in the MMA. It’s simply…FUN. Maybe one day I’ll get a black belt, more likely I’ll get a black eye.

But will I have STORIES to TELL!

Writing, Social Media and Blogging, Oh, MY!

I wrote this book to help writers…but mostly so I cloud finally be a CYBORG.

I wrote this book to help writers…but mostly so I could finally be a CYBORG.

Often, when we decide to become writers there is a LOT of social push-back. We don’t have a “real” job. Why? Because we actually have FUN. Is this what makes others itch with envy? When I created the WANA methods for blogging and social media, the goal wasn’t to sell books or measure algorithms. WANA is simple. HAVE FUN and others will be drawn to you. You will ENJOY it, so you’re more likely to DO it. Others gravitate toward the light so be the light.

Blogging? Have fun! Invite others in. That’s it. No gadgets, plans, gizmos or algorithms.

Facebook is FUN (maybe it’s why people get all snooty about it). Social media is recess for adults. It’s Show-And-Tell. “Hey, check out this cake I baked!” We share jokes and funny memes and smile and laugh…a lot.

Oh, but how is this directly impacting your book sales initiative? Are you targeting the right demographic to gain click throughs and meaningfully drive the curve of boring-as-hell?

No idea. And don’t care.

Play is anything we do for no gain other than we enjoy it. Is this why we have such a hard time being writers? Why are we swayed from fun to factory so easily? Everyone assumes the second we’re writing a novel, our goal is to become a NYTBSA. WHY? Can’t we just write something for the sake of fun? Maybe put it up for sale because we want to share our art project? Why do we need to monetize everything?

Children are investments, adults are assets and the elderly are losses and there is something terribly, horribly wrong with that.

The Play Challenge

Do ONE Thing Silly Per Day

This morning, I stepped outside to the cool soft grass and…did cartwheels. I’d forgotten how fun those things were. They added nothing tangibly to my word count and my laundry was still here when I returned, but cartwheels were strangely…liberating. Since Spawn has been home, I’ve been doing a lot of silly things. Chasing zombies with NERF guns, clearing rooms. Swimming. Tickle-fighting. And I was fretting over all this “wasted time.”

Pthththththt to that.

Last night we watched Mega Shark Versus Mecha Shark. Why? Because it is FUN. It’s so bad it is AWESOME.


Pay Attention to Words

I’m going to stop using the phrase “working out.” Makes me stressed. Maybe call it “recess”? We ran and ran as kids and didn’t need to slot time to do it. We jumped rope and walked everywhere and not one of us counted how many calories we’d burned before we could stop.

Seek PLAY and FUN

This is NOT goofing off. It’s good for you, so watch. I guarantee you the next minute and fifteen seconds will improve your day dramatically….


I am actively working to seek rest and fun. It’s good for the imagination. Go write a story you have no intention of marketing. See if you can combine things that don’t go together. Put a cup full of genres in one jar and nouns in another then draw—sci-fi, knitting, nuclear device. Whatever. Go color, do a cartwheel, play a video game. It IS work. Workaholics aren’t challenged by working more, they are truly challenged working less.

What are your thoughts?

Do you think our culture has gotten a collective stick up its hind end? Are you vexed that kids don’t get enough play? Are you annoyed that everything has to be “educational” or “college prep” and that we seem do frown on anything that doesn’t make “business sense”? Have you had a hard time playing, napping, having fun? Do you feel guilty that you should do more, but the list never stops? Do you find that your creativity improves after rest and fun?

Have you worked fun into your life? Are you guarding your fun and recreation and rest? Do you get pushback? Do you MISS having THREE MONTHS OFF with nothing to do but PLAY? What would you do if given that opportunity as an adult?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of JULY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).


For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE here’s my newest social media book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE. Only $6.99.

I have a new class series GOING PRO—Craft, Business and Brand. Take one or all three for a discount. Also use WANA15 for $15 off. Each class discusses the CORE ESSENTIALS. What is the essence of great writing? What is the heart of a brand/social media? What are the basics of publishing when so many options are available?


6 pings

Skip to comment form

  1. I can’t stop laughing at the “I want to be a rich man’s wife” comment. Didn’t they realize a quick wit is a sign of intelligence?

    I am a stay-at-home mom/writer and always feel guilty, like I should have signed my kids up for more camps. But that feeling will pass. If I had three months off, I’d kick back and read, read, read.

    Great post.

  2. oh my gosh YES! All the neighbor kids have such rigid schedules it’s crazy. I keep telling hubby that kids need this time to just be. To play. To dream. Not to be stressed out by schedules and school and keeping up with the Jones’ kids. We have mandatory outdoor time at our house.

    1. Just as a note, my parents forced me outside, too—which I always hated and made me not feel well. They mocked me when I asked if it were possible to be allergic to grass.

      Turns out, I actually am highly allergic to grass. Also trees, shrubs, flowers, and cacti.

      Just something to consider if a kid very much doesn’t want to go outside.

      1. Yeah, but during allergy season, I could play Barbies. I also LOVED my curling iron a tad too much. My mom was so patient. I’d wash dry and then style my hair…then do it again and again and again and she let me. And today, I don’t have to pay for fancy updos, LOL.

  3. Parents have been arrested as negligent for letting their kids play unattended. I don’t know if the micro-managing is the cause or consequence of the mindset that causes such arrests (there have been more than one).

    But yes, it’s symptomatic of major problems. Someone who relaxes and enjoys life even gets called “naive”, while everyone’s pressured into attitudes and behaviors that demonstrably create unnecessary stress, shorten lifespans, and often have the opposite effect of what they’re presumed to have.

  4. Hey Kristen,
    Thank you for your post. I have teenage girls in high school. Junior year…ugh…so serious. I have to constantly remind them not to compare themselves to others, not to take so many AP classes just because the school pushes them to do it.

    Keep creativity alive!


    PS Slowly working my way through your book. It’s very helpful.

  5. I really, REALLY enjoyed reading this!I do nothing but play and I’m 250 years old. I am also writing a book which is free to read on my blog.Kids should be allowed to be kids……and, so should adults!:-)

  6. I homeschooled my son for 8 years. We did a lot of learning through play. I learned not to worry about…’is he missing something?’ He grew and learned in a more naturally stress free environment! The entire process was a a tremendous gift to him and to his dad and I.
    Learning centers were all over our house. We read great books to him, showed him the world as I finances would allow!
    We certainly played and had fun. Our home was joyful and I’m forever thankful we had those years with our son!
    I’m so thrilled for you, your husband and The Spawn! It’s an adventure! 🙂

  7. I fully believe in play time. I often limit TV and tell my daughter to just go make something up when she says she doesn’t know what to do. She always comes back with something interesting. Like the Hawaiian Fairy Kitty Bug costume she came up with.

    And since she knows her goofiness will be rewarded with praise and attention, she has come to love being silly and finding ways to be creative. I think me being silly and creative has helped because (when I’m not stressed and exhausted) we find ways to have fun in all we do, like, putting giant tubes on our arms in Home Depot. That would so be a thing we would do.

    And the trick with the Hippity Hop is to have an adult with you doing it, too, so that when you give the excuse that you are testing them out, it seems more believable. 😉

  8. Reblogged this on The BiaLog and commented:
    An awesome blog post by Kristen Lamb. I’m so appreciative that my parents pushed me AND held back to let me find my path.

  9. This is such an awesome post! I can’t say how glad I am my parents pushed me while also letting me find my way. Without their constant encouragement I’d probably still be swimming upstream.

  10. Fun! Playing tag at night under the street lights. Making leaf rafts and sailing them, skinny-dipping in the creek. One summer my cousins and I dug up my aunt and uncle’s backyard and built an underground city. Now, I cringe when the AC comes on and I envision the meter spinning itself into a blur.
    But both my granddaughters still make forts in the dining room and put on plays for their stuffed animals.
    I need a hammock for dreaming and reading!

  11. Hi Kristen,
    Yes! I do agree that kids nowadays need more play. My son whines about not getting to play on his Nintendo as much as his friends do, I just tell him: you’re a kid, you’re supposed to play – not stare at a screen for hours. Thankfully, he gets it, and I’ve been pleased to see that he has been spending his summer vacation mostly outside. And when he complains that he’s bored, I tell him Good! Put your imagination to work, and make up something to do.

    I tend to get stuck by the computer too much, but to balance that I have also tried just to do stuff with the kids. We went walking in the forrest, just for the fun of it, they got to climb trees and monkey around. We took our bikes and went for a ride, trying out new routes we haven’t biked before.

    I had a point, when I started this… Can’t remember it now. Oh well. I’m glad that schools here (I’m from Finland) allow kids to be kids, they learn through play. They learn stuff, to prepare them for the next year, but it’s not so that they can do x y z in college. Everyone is different, and that’s good.

    – Henrika

  12. I actually do get that opportunity every once in a while – not usually three months, but I work short term assignments, so I then have time off in between. Even though I save up so I can take time off in between, there’s still pressure to get another assignment so you can go back to saving again so you don’t completely deplete your savings (COBRA payments, phone bill, RV payment, etc). I wish I could get to a point where I could just relax and give myself to permission to go to the beach for a month, write, and not worry, but so far I’m not there yet… I end up going to see family for a couple of weeks and they hound me about whether or not I have another job yet.

  13. Reblogged this on LindaSTaylor and commented:
    What would be do without Kristen Lamb to reblog? Here are her thoughts on play, work, essentialism and modern society. Do you see yourself in here? CHANGE! It’s good for you! Thank God I have annoying playful dogs. Enjoy.

  14. Thanks for this. I reblogged to expose others to your vast wisdom! You reminded me that my play is in the writing, not the marketing. Need better balance there for sure. Love you ideas about play-writing. And I wish people put less fantastic webinars and telesummits on line. I can’t resist them. And then there’s the Food Network. Ah but ADD is another topic, isn’t it.

  15. The concept you’re discussing is definitely catching on in the blogosphere; I have several friends who’ve been sharing posts about parents who raise their kids to make their own fun rather than come to them as activity directors. A visited a good friend of mine, a mother of three, and her kids were interacting with us all day (two are very young). Besides a developmental program for her child with Down Synbdrome and a kids activities at church, they are not driven around to lessons and clubs 4-5 days a week. They do a lot together as a family. I found that refreshing.

    Oh, and I think we are seeing the repurcussions of that mindset with some in the younger generation coming to the workforce. I straddle gen X and gen Y, so I get a little of both. Where I work is rather conservative with an older workforce. In the past 5 years, more new graduates have been hired,like 22-24 right out of school. They are level-uppers. They work a job a year or two, move up. Very motivated and eager to succeed.

    This is great energy and has brought a lot of interesting dynamics. However i had a conversation with a girl about 7or 8 years younger than me, who mentioned she was always preparing for the next thing, and now she had a good job and she didn’t know what else to reach for. She was raised to be achievement oriented, and sometimes our day jobs even out with those milestones. I encouraged her to pursue a passion outside of work, which is the gem my husband taught me. I stopped fighting for recognition at work when I realized my potential as a writer. And I’m so much fulfilled, both at home and at work.

  16. I played outside like a maniac. None of the girl stuff, I was a certified native Texan tomboy. I rode horses, I raced motorcycles. I played football in the street with the guys, had a mean basketball dribble. I built my own skateboard after my all-metal roller skates broke (I’ve got a brand new pair of roller skates, you’ve got a brand new key…remember that song?) I would race down the hill with the boys on our bikes.

    I try very hard to have fun now. I can’t do any of those things anymore but I play World of Warcraft (and guys seem to think my characters are my real self and hit on me, I have fun watching reactions when I say I’m a grandmother of 9 and I can kick their ass in the game.) We watch stupid movies.

    I Love this post. I even put it (and that creepy video…omg) on my facebook.

    1. I have watched that video DOZENS of times and it STILL cracks me up. I am a kid at heart for sure. Was losing that for a while with all the family drama and didn’t understand why i was so miserable. I WASN’T PLAYING! Go you and WoW all you want.

  17. So true. I think I need to bring a hula hoop and coloring books to the office.

    1. hula hooping is SO much harder now. I can barely do it for a few seconds. I wish I had never stopping hula hooping and jump roping. Remember when you could jump rope for hours?

      1. Yes, and ride bikes and climb trees–I used to get in a lot of trouble for that. We didn’t have a lot of toys, so we just went outside and played pretend.

        1. YES! I was in a tree or on a bike most of my childhood summers. I miss that

      2. There are adult sized hula hoops now, and lots of tutorials on YouTube. 😉

        1. I have one, and I’m work, oh um, playing with it. I can go a few minutes 🙂

    2. Total agreement!

  18. When my son was two, I sent him to daycare a couple of days per week so that I could start the transition back to work and he could get some social. This came to a screeching halt on the Day of the Sheep. He came home with a sheep craft– a copy of a sheep cartoon with the head colored in and the body filled with glued-on cotton balls. All the cotton balls were neatly in the sheep body. The coloring on the head was mostly in the lines. There was no way on earth that my kid did this. I knew that if he had been given cotton balls and school glue, there would have been cotton balls not only outside the lines, but all over himself and his table mates. The head coloring would have been a swirling mess of color. I asked if he’d really made this sheep. “Oh yes! He loved it!” the day care worker lied with a smile.

    From the Day of the Sheep until halfway through his junior year of high school, we homeschooled. He went to a “credit recovery” high school for 18 months, graduated Valedictorian, got some slamming SAT scores, and entrance into a very good University this fall. We played a lot in those early years. We were that house where every kid on the block ended up, because I’d let them flood the sandbox with the hose and get filthy all day. (Sorry about all the extra laundry, rest of the block parents).

    Whatever my son needed in pre-school, watching teachers carefully assemble rote sheep in his name was not it. And yet parents don’t want to hear that our pre-k “curriculum” was wet sandboxes, train sets, dress up trunks, unguided art projects, and lots of read aloud, every day. I tell them to let their kids go roll in fall leaves, make mud pies, climb the high slide at the park. They tell me that kids need to start “real” school earlier and earlier to keep up. I wish my results spoke for themselves, but I guess we’re a sample set of one (two if we count my daughter, but she’s not done with homeschool). Still, I stand by my theory. Play makes your brain grow, keeps the stress levels down, and produces kids who can bang out top scores on standardized tests. Play is the magic elixir for brain health. Thanks for supporting more play for all of us!

  19. Play is so important and kids and adults gain so much more from it then we realize. In some states homeschoolers have to keep a record of what they do and show it to teachers, it’s amazing how play can be broken into categories. Cartwheels- PE and physics 🙂 Zombie hunting- geometry, and biology. LOL
    As an adult I need to play more, I find myself ‘should-ing’ everything to death. I love to do yoga, but as soon at it becomes a work-out or part of my routine I start dreading it. WTH????

  20. I remember summers (and every afternoon during the rest of the year) spent cycling all around the country lanes with my friends, going blackberrying, climbing trees, playing football and cricket, or being whoever in our favourite book that week… and playground time meant keeping as far away from the teachers as we could. These days the kids come to me in the playground and tell me they are bored, and ask what can they do. It worries me that they don’t seem to know how to play – or how to solve their own friendship dilemmas. As a society, we are actually teaching people not to think (or be creative). I think you have really hit the nail on the head with this post. I just wish I knew what could be done about it… ps if one of the kids in my class said he wanted to grow up to fight zombies, I’d make sure we stayed friends, so I’d have someone to look after me when the apocolypse comes.

  21. Ah I want to run outside and play… This post is wonderful 🙂

  22. YES, yes to everything you said. I’ve seen a couple of posts along these lines over the past year, so hopefully the more people talk about it and share, the more cultural change will come about. I loved how you brought the issue around to applying to adults, too. (Oh, and I don’t need to be entered into your giveaway. I’m an editor. 🙂 )

  23. I love this! I am in school because I want to find a profession which allows me to write, and right now, school is making me do so. And other than my blog which is about my experience in school, I’m not writing for fun. I’m writing for necessity, and it’s not the kind of writing fun I need at the moment. I need to get back I to journaling and fiction writing like I want to be doing!

  24. The worst thigh the educational system ever did was cut art, music, and recess (and I mean free play, not structured games).

  25. Great post! I’ve relearned this in the past couple weeks (or tried to, anyway). “Resting is growing, waiting is training.” That’s why I cajoled myself into playing Tales of the Arabian Nights on Monday instead of writing. I don’t regret it.

  26. It’s amazing to me that we still aren’t sure, after generations of trying, how best to educate our kids. I do regret the loss of free play and the creativity it engendered. Yet the world continues to change and there are new venues for creativity. I grew up in a town without a library and yet my son did all kinds of neat projects at our local library. I don’t recall any wool on a sheep, but he had plenty of chances to be creative, much more than I had as a kid with all my free play. Organized programs aren’t necessarily limiting, and in fact, can be life enhancing.

  27. I hear you on the rich man’s wife, lol. Hilarious post with, of course, a lot of sobering truth behind it.

  28. Preach! The best things happen when we are having fun.

  29. Yay to play. Play is why I love Las Vegas. Not to gamble, but to be twelve again and to PLAY!
    I don’t understand why we have to keep kids running hither and yon to all these organized activities. Let them be bored now and then so their brains can recharge and their imaginations can run loose. We used to make doll houses and barns out of cardboard, crayons and fabric remnants. Horses out of sassafras limbs. Who needs all the pre-made plastic stuff?

  30. You want to know what summer vacation was like when I was a kid? Watch this:

    It really sucks to be a kid these days. When I was a kid, summer vacation was three months of trying to stay out of trouble. We learned a lot through observation. We watched guys working on cars in their garages. We wandered through alleys and buildings about to be torn down. We climbed onto roofs of high-rises. We hung out at the beach all day. We’d wander off on our own and explore out of the neighborhood. We stayed up late and listened to ballgames from the West Coast. We didn’t pick up a book or do anything “educational” until the Wednesday after Labor Day. And we were fine. We hadn’t forgotten much, and we picked up whatever we forgot quickly.

    Kids don’t get enough of that nowadays. That’s every bit a part of their education as school is. They don’t need every minute of every day programmed for them. No wonder they’re losing their creativity.

    • beccapuglisi on July 31, 2014 at 5:37 pm
    • Reply

    I completely agree that kids need more play time—even *gasp* unsupervised time. Or, at least, time they believe they’re unsupervised ;). I read this article a few months ago, and it has really made me think about some of the things we’ve lost in current-day American society:

  31. “HAVE FUN and others will be drawn to you. You will ENJOY it, so you’re more likely to DO it.” Yes!
    I’m 62 and play MMOs every night after dinner. But then I’ve always believed that if you’re going to spend 1/3 of your life working, you should enjoy the process, not just the end result.

    • Maggi Andersen on July 31, 2014 at 6:15 pm
    • Reply

    I so agree with you, Kristen. I’m a grandmother, so I remember a childhood in Australia where there was a lot of unsupervised play time. In the school holidays we wandered the bushland fighting some invisible foe, our imaginations creating great stories, or wandered the beach collecting shells. In the school holidays we only came home when we were hungry. Okay, realistically it might have been a safer world, or maybe we didn’t hear about the bad things so much .My sons did the same. I don’t blame parents for wanting to keep a good eye on their kids these days, but it makes sense to bring some balance to their lives with time to just unwind and play, to dream and create.

  32. I’m usually pretty good at resting, it’s the not feeling guilty about it that I struggle with!
    Actually, I could do with learning the balance between recreation and creation, making progress on the writing without hammering myself into a Thou Shalt schedule. Ideas?

  33. Oh my, Kristen. Nail on the head. I regularly visited the principal, and so did my kids. Why? My imaginary friends and stories. My kids, um yeah. Their imaginary friends and stories. For me, the teachers suggested shrinks. For them, ADD meds. None of us fit the round holes, and are glad to be square pegs.

    I was so lucky to have three years with my kids before they went to prison, oh I mean, school. I learned as much as they did in that period, and, with hindsight, I should have stayed home and taught them.

  34. Great post. I’m a SAHM and I love that my kids are home with me this summer (well,most of the time I love it). It keeps fun alive. From hide and seek , to swimming, to bubbles, to wars with army men, what’s better? I feel sorry for them that they’ll have to grow up. My oldest (8yrs) said camp was fun (went to a great 1 week camp at the Y) but “every week would be too much”.
    I used to be a teacher and I’m a big believer in free play. Thankfully, my kids are too.

  35. I loved reading this post. I always feel guilty that I don’t play with my 3 year old son enough. It’s the middle of winter here and TRAINS, DINOSAURS and HELICOPTERS are on high rotation. Try as I might I just can’t get into it!
    The photo from Home Depot made me laugh and laugh and laugh.

  36. Love this post! I can’t stand that every other storefront is one of those learning centers and every commercial on kids’ channels are about things to buy that will get your kid into a Ivy League college. Ridiculous stuff. I’m all about cartwheels instead of laundry 🙂

  37. I agree wholeheartedly, Kristen! I know a 4-year-old who’s in preschool all day and comes home to practice writing letters with Mom. She is anxious, chews on her clothes, and is on antacids for her hurting tummy. Remembering my own years before formal school, I feel bad for her. Everything’s a competition for parents now, it seems.

  38. What a great post! Thank you!

  39. This is exactly what I needed to read right now. Add psychic to your list of awesomeness (I think skills sounds too work-like, ) Thanks!

  40. First of all- why are there no adult sized Hoppity Hops? I want one, dagnabit! I work for a very metric driven company and nobody will listen to my suggestion of bubble wrap under our task chairs. Can you imagine how fun would that be? Back in my old department, my friend and I got separated because we laughed too much. Seriously. It was like being back in grade school. And it’s not like we were slackers – we actually were top performers. Anyway – great thought provoking (and funny) post. Enjoy your days as Mom The Zombie Killer. They go fast. Good news is, your son will fondly remember these times as an adult. Both my kids do. 🙂

  41. I couldn’t agree more. Kids definitely need time to play. I spend all summer taking them to parks and pools so they can get outside and enjoy the nice weather. Weekends are similar during the school year. And writing for me is fun time. If I don’t enjoy it, I don’t write it. Even marketing has to be fun for me to do it, so I choose the kind of marketing I want to do and focus on that. I’m grateful that self-publishing has taken off the way it has because it’s allowed me the privilege of playing all day.

  42. I think Beatrix Potter summed it up best: “Thank goodness that I was never sent to school; it would have rubbed off some of the originality.”

  43. If I wanted to write a post about the erosion of play values for kids, I couldn’t have written it better. I, too, am from the generation that spent all available free time outdoors, on physical activities. If I stayed at home, my mom thought I was ailing, and would pester me to tell her what was wrong. I am so sorry for today’s kids. All of them, not just my own.

  44. This is the sanest and one of the more sensible articles I’ve read in a while. Kinda funny to run into it today as I woke up early and spent the morning just singing and dancing, trying to get my dog to join in. She didn’t. On the more serious note, the schooling system needs a serious overhaul… And the reasons behind it is a vast subject, but there is something fundamentally wrong with a system that does not encourage the greatest strength people possess… which is their imagination and creativity, that coupled with problem solving skills honed by the schooling system, we’d be calling all the children geniuses.

  45. “Okay, we’d have watched the good ones and not hung on for the crappy kiddie shows.”

    I did the same thing. Today it is tragic that kids don’t make anything with their hands anymore like model airplanes, embroidery, macrame, pottery, making wood toys, painting and have no clue what most tools are for.

  46. You are right about the stupidity (my word, not yours) of asking a school kid what they want to be when they are older. I became an economist at 31. It was fun for the first 16 years. but going thru school, I don’t think I even knew what an economist even was. Or that such a thing even existed. I was convinced that I wanted to do chemistry. Until the lab experiments gave me headaches. Today’s kids will have occupations that don’t even exist now. Keep blogging 🙂

  47. Reminds me of the quote attributed to John Lennon. Something like when his teacher asked what he wanted to be when he grew up he answered “happy”. They said he didn’t understand the assignment. He said they didn’t understand life.

  48. Reblogged this on Carving Out A Space and commented:
    Definitely worth a read. I often wonder where the fun went, and I fret over my kids’ lack of creative license at school. There are times to be serious, yes, but laugh a little. Hell, laugh a lot.

  49. Loved the post and loving the comments as well. There’s definitely something fundamentally wrong with our increasingly work-horse society. We are machines and this is the Matrix.

  50. Great post. I love to play. When my family gets together (note: I’m the youngest of 9 and I’m over 50) we play. Football, volleyball, general goofing off — one year we made a slip-n-slide down our hill with tarps and water hoses. We regularly schedule Family Game Nights. It’s sad that kids these days don’t get to spend summers doing nothing but what their imaginations tell them to.

  51. You should be a carpenter. You always hit the nail on the head! I almost never see kids playing in the neighborhood even though dozens live there. Like you, we never came inside until well after dark during the summer, except of course, for lunch and dinner. Got to keep the energy up. One of my favorite “toys” as a kid was a pile of sand left over from one of dad’s construction projects and a few blocks of wood cut to look like snow mobiles. Kept me busy for months.

  52. Reblogged this on therobynbirdsnest and commented:
    Can I get an Amen?
    As an early childhood educator I deal with this concept every single day! Even at a play-based, emergent curriculum school, I constantly feel the need to defend my teaching methods to parents who don’t understand.
    I want to shout this concept from the rooftops…
    Would anyone ever listen?

  53. I have this really vivid memory of filling out a form at to take an “Outdoor Education” course and one of the questions was “What is your ultimate career goal?” I answered that I didn’t see what that had to do with my desire to pitch a tent or paddle a canoe. I didn’t get into the course but never forgot how ridiculous I thought that question there was.

    Great post.

  54. The Danes have got it right. No formal schooling for children until they reach the age of 7. Before that, learning through play. I believe the statistics prove that, on average, Danish children at the age of 11 are ahead of their early-schooled counterparts in other countries. They are probably less stressed and better socially adjusted, too.

  55. So here we have this school structure that is designed to produce a force for manufacturing when most manufacturing has largely been outsourced to developing countries. If we are to have any economic future, it will come from fields requiring imagination—computers, programming, art, writing, design, etc.


    More than that, getting a degree doesn’t even have the same meaning it once did. In my parents’ generation, going to college meant you were guaranteed a job. Now? It might get you a foot in the door, but it’s no longer a guarantee of anything.

    Better to just do what you love. It’s definitely more motivating.

  56. Dang it. I thought I properly closed that Italics tag. : /

  57. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes! Thank you!

  58. When I was a child, we played outdoors all summer. We lived across the street from the elementary school, and there was a sort of summer camp held there for the neighborhood kids. It was free. We enjoyed supervised play, Kool-aid and cookies, and some arts and crafts. It was very simple. We even played on the playground when the camp was not in session. The area was accessible, and there were swings, a slide, and a sandbox. At home, we played Cowboys, Hide and Seek, and “school.” Kids of today would find our summer activities boring. Even birthday parties now are social events for kids – not just a homemade cake and ice cream in the backyard, a few games, and simple gifts like coloring books and crayons, hair bows, inexpensive toy cars, etc. Now birthday parties are held at venues and often include entertainment for the kiddos. Gifts are expensive at $20 or more a pop. Multiple parties can get pricey. I miss the good ol’ days.

  59. Great article! Great book link! (It’s on order as we speak…)

  60. Don’t get me started on playing outdoors back in the Connecticut woods “in the olden days;” I gotta wonder why my mother seemed so calm since we’d be gone all day just as you described. Oh, and that video took TWO minutes and 30 seconds!

  61. I honestly think so many mothers have their kids in every activity available because they have no ideas of what to do with them on their own. Which again, is caused by their imagination being trained out of them.

    1. I agree. Also, what else are they going to do with the kid? We get told not to let them watch too much TV or too much electronics, but there are no other kids home in the neighborhood to play. So I keep him cooped up here in his room by himself? I have him in a few activities until the unscooling coop begins. We do meet with the other unschoolers for playtimes at the park. But when they aren’t available, I take him to the gym and we are doing martial arts TOGETHER, but that was for a FAMILY activity.

  62. I don’t even know how to respond to that.
    That’s about it. That I can put into coherent sentences, anywho. And that wasn’t even a sentence. Its a smiley.

  63. Right on, Kristen! I couldn’t agree more. When my four kids were young, end of summer was a bummer. I loved those fun, lazy, Slip’n’Sliding summer days. I dreaded school starting up again. Hectic school mornings sucked. Rush, rush, rush. I think education is great, but it can be fun and should be. And cartwheels! Yay, you, for giving it a shot. I’ve been tempted to try a cartwheel off and on these past few years. My heart says yes, do it, you’re not too old at 58. Nah, you won’t herniate a disk. Then I chicken out. So tempting…:)

  64. I love this post! If parents understood how deadly serious school had become there would be a massive revolution, if only our politically correct selves dared to question our school systems. I was part of the current that swept through the country with educational accountability and that pendulum swung a little too far. And if you have a typically active, normally slower to mature boy in school these days, don’t run right out and buy the ADD meds the teachers will prescribe. Seriously, as a career educator, we need to lighten up and get kids moving again at school.

    • Rachel Thompson on August 2, 2014 at 8:36 am
    • Reply

    I can answer your questions and show you where ,why and how things became this way. But, I’d have to write another book. You have parts of it right, your observations are good.
    I’m afraid the core of it is insidious, theses social constructions were and are intentional and not for the betterment of the common man.
    You said,
    “We’ve created this culture that prides itself on getting no sleep and taking no time off. Even our words reflect our values.”
    No we did not make this, this was imposed on us incrementally by the same kind of oligarchs that owned the industrial revolution. They owned the government then and others like them do now. We The (little) People did no such thing– they did it to us and still do.
    It’s good you home school. Your child will become an independent and critical thinker– only 2% of the population can make that claim.
    So you’ve’ scratched the surface and your understanding of reality is better than most but still cursory.
    I suggest not digging too deep. The horror of it all, true reality, is soul crushing. This is the cures of writers, we dig deep out of curiosity, a need to know human nature–but what we find is nothing like what’s it purported to be. If you beat back your own history enough to take a long, hard look at raw truth, the why of our actual human condition… it will be too late to run.
    Stay creative my friend. Surf the waves, but stay on top of them and have fun. There are no pearls deep down, only darkness.

  65. Play is when our creative juices come to the fore as well. “Play” can even inspire a blog post.
    Yes, Officer, I’m An Author

    This evening, I’ll be driving my 1960 Plymouth in the Golden Super Cruise.
    Playtime for gear-heads, in this case a whole town filled with them.

    I know I “should” stay home and get started on my next novel, but who knows what story idea(s) may pop into my head whilst I’m among the throng of a thousand-plus revving V8’s?

    1. And I’m so lucky I grew up when kids could be kids. 🙂
      The Spawn in in good hands! O:)

  66. You are so right about the benefits of play. Maria Montisorri recognized that a long time ago when she developed her educational philosophy and schools. Kids need some structure so they learn that they cannot act on every wild impulse, but giving their creativity a bit of a loose rein lets them learn at their own pace.

  67. My “baby” (20!) is living away from home for the summer. She’ll be back in September for school. We are both having a ball, playing in our own ways 🙂 I don’t remember ever playing with my folks, growing up. It would have felt weird – there were all these kids to play with!

  68. I think this is really pervasive, in that so much of what happens before college is “college-prep,” as you say, and then it seems that so much of what’s in college these days is job-directed. When I went to college (a few decades ago), the point was to learn and experiment and grow and challenge yourself. As long as I took enough classes in my major to fulfill those requirements, I was encouraged to take any class I wanted — whatever interested me .

    Nothing that I did in college was in order to get a good job later (or I wouldn’t have taken all those literature classes 🙂 ) That does not seem to be the case these days.

  69. I flipped back to your blog about Zombies this morning for a quote for my blog title “fairy tales for our time” after reading another novel that included 9.11, and read your “cultural war on creativity.” Last night I ran the tub for my 8 year old grandson, who’d returned from a marshmallow roast birthday party, so he could wash his sweaty, sun-browned body and “scrub those black feet” before he crawled into bed exhausted from playing outside all day. Granted he took his “pad” into the bathroom and turned on the music from MindCraft before he got into the tub. Earlier his older sister and I rode our bikes from their house to mine and ate take out Thai on the floor of my back porch. Then she wove fabric scraps into my hammock as she listened to Hunger Games on her “phone.” Their parents who’d been off off sailing with friends, came in long after the porch lights came on.
    I’m 71. My mom worked nights and my dad repaired TVs. They taught us to swim, ice skate on frozen lakes in Michigan, took us on picnics and camping, and fishing. We were shooed outside all day in the summer – until the porch lights came on. We’re clearly some of the lucky ones – carry on having fun with Spawn!!

  70. So, it IS okay when I say I write for fun? Who knew?

  71. Play outside? Yuck! Never did like the great outdoors. But, give me craft supplies, baking items, books, and musical instruments and I can play all day.
    Some parents simply don’t know how to “just be” with their kids. As a family, we’d all sit around and read, especially when the temps dropped below zero. I was always amazed at the number of parents I came across who said their kids didn’t like to be read to. Ever. Seriously?
    Thanks for the play reminder.

  72. Cracking post. Many of my friends think I’m a bit touched because I believe it’s a GOOD thing that McMini doesn’t get homework. He’s six. He shoes no after school groups because after school he’s knackered. So he comes home and plays, or we play.

    John Cleese achieved some mileage as a work place guru. He said that if you want people to be truly productive you must give them time to play. He is so right. And which country is doing best in the education stakes? Latvia, where kids are encouraged to learn about what interests them, where school days are shorter and nobody has homework until they’re 14.



  73. You know… I have to admit: I do enjoy the fun. Whatever I consider to be fun and funny! I do Martial Arts for fun (yes, it can be dead useful too (pun intended) and I had to use it a couple times) – but I don’t do it for gain. I am childlike sometimes – even childish and enjoy every minute of it. I do have a category in my blog “Raani’s Funny Corner”… there some of the things I do for fun and amusement are told… I definitely believe, life is just serious enough – I need to laugh. – And that’s what I do.

  74. I don’t think that the world wants us to remove fun altogether, they just don’t want it to be spontaneous. Everything has to be neatly advertised. It is hard for me because I am an ISTJ, so I WANT everything to be planned. I even postpone telling my wife about things I’ve planned for us so it seems spontaneous. LoL!
    However, I do like to have fun. I like reading comic books (and regular books), watching movies, swimming, karate, artwork, and writing. Those are just a few, but it’s true. I remember my wife came to me and said “Let’s go out of town just for the day.” It was

  75. That cover is AWESOME! 😀 The L-1000?

    Lol. I remember playing house as a kid and riding our bikes in the neighbor’s paved driveway (it was big and grass-less) and going to the park. Things definitely changed with the creation of computers though, I remember playing outside less.

    Suddenly have the urge to colour. Bought myself a coloring book and crayons recently–yes, even at 22 I still like to color. Lol. Helps me relax.

  76. Reblogged this on The Write Stuff and commented:
    Okay, so I just discovered Kristen Lamb. I’m probably one of the last, but she’s great. This column reverberates in my memory-bones. We had full days of unsupervised play as kids. (Yup, back in the ’60s, but still…) Play is so essential to being comfortable with the overwhelming choices in making stories. Anyway, read what she’s got to say about the Power of Play.

  1. […] to Kristen Lamb for the […]

  2. […] The War on Fun—How Modern Culture is KILLING Creativity. […]

  3. […] one of those bloggers I read faithfully, and so should you) posted a piece to her blog called The War on Fun—How Modern Culture is KILLING Creativity. She recently started homeschooling her son because, as she puts it, he was “fired” […]

  4. […] Helpful challenge. Get those kids outside. Go with them. Read more. […]

  5. […] Moi with the AWESOME Chuck Wendig… Since homeschooling The Spawn, life has shifted dramatically as I struggle along this uncharted learning curve. For instance, it is a gorgeous summer this year.  […]

I LOVE hearing your thoughts!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.