Evolution of play: unsupervised bat and ball to today's screens

Kids used to use the bat and ball unsupervised and free; today play is all about screens or organized sport, hovered over by parents.

Photo: Tony Avelar/TCSM Illustration: John Kehe/Staff
Relearning how to play. For toddlers to tween, there should be more roughhousing and fantasy feeding development than screen time and hovering parents, say experts. This article is part of a cover story project in the Jan. 23, 2012 issue of The Christian Science Monitor magazine.


Outdoor play without adult supervision was common in both urban and rural US settings.

Different ages played together.

Bicycles and balls were the main outdoor toys, and board games were the most common inside.

Much of play revolved around traditional games such as baseball, modified to fit space and materials.


Use of toys increased, and many were 'branded' – connected to TV characters – Barbies, Power Rangers, My Little Ponies, etc.

Outdoor play was likely to be adult-supervised or part of an 'organized activity.'

TV viewing was increasingly a part of free time.

Athletics become more formal and age-based – such as soccer camp for 7-year-olds rather than neighborhood pickup soccer in a vacant lot.


Toys are the center of play; most are connected to media characters and are somehow electronic.

Most free time is screen time spent in front of the TV, computer, etc.

Unsupervised outdoor time is almost nonexistent. Physical activity of any kind has decreased.

Multi-age, cross-gender play is disappearing, even among siblings.

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