Free play among children, especially outside, is now so rare that I feel privileged to be able to see it firsthand. Joy of the Pond is a non-profit we recently started to get more kids playing pond hockey – regardless of whether they play organized hockey or not. We get together weekly and the curriculum largely consists of whatever games the kids themselves decide to organize.
The other day we were at Creek Valley in Edina. There was a good group of maybe 10 skaters, ranging from four to nine years old and from novice beginners to experienced skaters. The children called out to each other and grouped up. No adult supervision or organizing of the activity. The kids did it by THEMSELVES.
The group’s talent differential was large. At an organized youth hockey association there would be about ten emails already lined up to the board about the “disaster” unfolding. “How do you expect my player to develop in this environment?” In the stands, you’d overhear the parents complaining about the lack of “seriousness” to the practice structure. Line drills pounded ad nauseum are apparently more aesthetically appealing for some.
The kids self-organized a game of freeze tag. After a few minutes I was curious how they were doing the game. It really was working. Everyone was moving and having fun. How can a complete beginner who can barely move skate with the nine-year-old or the seven-year-old that have skated for 2+ years? As I neared the group, I heard the youngest and least experienced skater yell out “I’m the unfreezer, you can’t tag me!”. She spent the entire game skating and unfreezing the kids that had a shot of not being tagged.
I’ve never seen that rule in freeze tag or heard of it before. I guess my adult brain is less creative now than a four-year-old. This simple rule modification was genius. All the kids were able to play in the game and they did it for a while, definitely past the 8-minute station-based practice limit. Were these kids also practicing their ability to persevere? I’m sure they were. They were learning, without even trying, to do one “drill” for a long time. Were they learning how to resolve conflicts? They certainly had to. No officials or parents were going to intervene to call the game. Were they training with greater engagement and speed than the deliberately planned drills? You bet.
Joy of the Pond is a non-profit organization started by Josh Levine and The Fortis Academy to help youth get together out on the pond, develop a deep passion for the game, and train for hours at a time without even knowing it! To learn more, go to joyofthepond.com.