Dr. Peter Gray on “The decline of play”



In this talk, Dr. Peter Gray compellingly brings attention to the reality that over the past 60 years in the United States there has been a gradual but, overall dramatic decline in children’s freedom to play with other children, without adult direction. Over this same period, there has been a gradual but overall dramatic increase in anxiety, depression, feelings of helplessness, suicide, and narcissism in children and adolescents. Based on his own and others’ research, Dr. Gray documents why free play is essential for children’s healthy social and emotional development and outlines steps through which we can bring free play back to children’s lives.



Dora Taylor

9 thoughts on “Dr. Peter Gray on “The decline of play”

  1. I have now watched Dr. Gray’s TED talk about play four times. I watched it initially with this blog post in mind. Then I watched it again for myself. The third time it was after a conversation with my first and second grade teaching team. We have been working with our students to build confidence in play and practice listening to your inner voice. The fourth time I watched it was after a conversation with a mom with a two year old. She had just watched the video and was questioning whether or not she could let her child play freely in Seattle’s neighborhoods.

    Each time I listened to Dr. Gray, I was filled with many questions, but overall was the idea that we need to find a way here and now to help children build their confidence, lower anxiety and take back independence.

    1. Yes. It is within the contect of the time that is increasingly taken away from lunch and recess in the public schools due to the demands of testing and testing prep that the teachers feel they have to provide for the students to do well on the tests.

      The tests are not only used to evaluate a student’s performance within a very limited scope of information, but the tests are now used to evaluate teachers, schools and even districts.

      This emphasis and focus on testing has decreased not only an opportunity for play but also the time to explore different subjects and discover different ways of looking at the world.

      Through creative projects, students gain more confidence in their thinking because no two children think the same way or go about a problem the same way.

      All the testing, and the cost of the testing, has taken away from play, exploration and creative pursuits.


  2. I agree that if one parent is not in our house, we can’t let our kid run around the neighborhood from house to house where maybe a parent is. When I was a kid, there was a mom home in every house, so when we kids ran from house to house, or to the park, there was a group who watched out for the others and who could go to that kid’s house if there was a problem.

    1. Same with me. On Saturdays I would leave home after breakfast and wander through the hills where we lived, play and skateboard all day with neighbor friends and my brother. It was what you did. Mom was home and dad worked. That was the way it was.

      Freedom all day to explore, learn, stay fit by running around and playing, and just having fun. I probably learned a few social skills along the way and a bit more about life.

  3. I can’t help but think that two parents working has had an impact. Although, the doctor said that economics did not seem to correlate with the decline in play, I believe the change in the number of households with a parent at home, instead of at work, has had a profound effect on child play in the neighborhood. Daycare for preschoolers, school, and before-/after-school care, all place kids in structured environments with adult supervision. When most (if not all) the neighborhood’s adults aren’t home during the weekdays and summers, they aren’t providing a safe environment (a network of yards and homes) for kids to share and explore. In the 60s and early 70s, we played all over the neighborhood and beyond without parent supervision, but there were numerous homes and backyards we could run to and from for help, food, drink, play equipment, indoor and outdoor play space. because many adults made “being home” their full-time job.

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