Free-play advocates want more rough and tumble play for their kids


othing brings kids together like a playground and no playground brings kids together like the Acarchy Zone.

Daniel Ramsey is the 10-year-old architect behind an Eiffel Tower of tires and tubes.


I think that it's really cool and I'm glad that other people like doing it too

," says Ramsey.

For three years children have been climbing and crawling at the Anarchy Zone in the Ithaca Children's Garden.

Erin Marteal is the Executive Director of the Garden. "As a whole we have gotten away from unstructured time," says Marteal.

Like the name suggests kids can do almost anything they want.

"You can't like fight, that's one of the rules," says Ramsey.

For the first time dozens of parents and free-play advocates are coming together from around the country for Ithaca's Day of Play. They're looking to see what Ithaca is doing and how they can take this different concept back to their community. They're part of a growing movement against hyper-safe, structured play.

Michael Stebbins brought his kids to the playground from his home in Weedsport with his girlfriend Marybeth Schartzwalder. "As a kid I used to do things like that and I've seen it's kind of gone away from that," says Stebbins.

"It's scary about what can happen, but as soon as you can step back and let yourself, it work out well," says Schartzwalder.

Elizabeth Stillwell is an early childhood specialist and faculty emeritus at Cornell University. Whether it's out on the baseball field, in ballet class or during a cello lesson, Stillwell says many kids are rarely in charge of what they're doing.

"There's a true absence in the children's lives for free-play. For play that they bring their own ideas to, unsupervised," says Stillwell.

It's here at the Anarchy Zone where kids can take charge, build a fort and solve problems, without an adults input.

"When there's an adult and there's a conflict all the kids look to the adult. When there's not an adult or the adult knows how to step back, children work out negotiating whose turn it is and whether or not something is fair or not," says Stillwell.

Parents are nearby if anyone gets caught, but the goal is to let these kids figure it out and work their way out of trouble themselves.

"They become more capable and more confident. We find that kids don't have the skills they need growing up, because they haven't played like this," says Stillwell.

Stillwell says this rough and tumble style of play can help children with anxiety, depression and ADHD.

"Attention to task, going deeply, putting your mind to something, accomplishing a goal happens when children are allowed to construct a ramp or create their own hammock swing," says Stillwell.

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