Finding the lost marbles.

Back when I was a kid, before the dawn of videogames, DVDs, and computers, we played marbles. We just played games like that. We didn’t need a seminar to figure out how. Today things are different:

He can thank Michael Cohill, a toy designer and enthusiast, whose marble seminar Joseph attended at a youth fair a few weeks ago. Mr. Cohill considers himself something of a pied piper of the game, having taught it to thousands of children at schools, parks and scout meetings. “They have the exact same experience kids did with marbles a hundred years ago,” said Mr. Cohill, 52.

Well, not exactly. Back then, children didn’t need to take seminars to learn to play a no-tech, simple game. In the era of micromanaged play dates, overstuffed after-school schedules, cuts to recess and parents terrified of injuries, lawsuits and predators, many traditional childhood games have become lost arts, as antique as the concept of idle time itself.

But lately, a number of educators like Mr. Cohill, as well as parents and child-development specialists are trying to spur a revival of traditional outdoor pastimes, including marbles, hopscotch, red rover and kickball. They are attending play conferences, teaching courses on how to play, and starting leagues for the kinds of activities that didn’t used to need leagues — just, say, a stick and a ball. They are spurred by concerns that a decline in traditional play robs the imagination and inhibits social interaction, by personal nostalgia, and by a desire to create a new bridge to connect generations — a bridge across both sides of the Nintendo gap.

Finally child development experts are concerned about children’s imagination and social interaction, but they still don’t get it. Starting leagues and controlling the play isn’t an improvement.

Growing up all we had was friends and our imagination. We hung out, we played games, we made stuff up, we played together for hours at a time. Just kids, no adults.Sometimes kids just need to be left alone to play with their friends, occasionally even outside in the fresh air without the aid of technology.

Somewhere along the line – and I blame my own generation for this – parents suddenly decided that they needed to protect their kids from all the terrible things that happened to them as children. But they must remember things much differently than I do. Because my childhood was pretty good, and I hope my kids were able to experience even half of what I did.

We ran. We rode bikes. We played. We fell. We got hurt. And yet we survived. Sometimes we won. And yes, sometimes we lost, which is a good life lesson to learn. And we had a great time. With just a few marbles.


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