Some time between then and now we took too much of the magic of childhood away from too many of our children.

Many Saturdays I drive east on the Atlanta highway in Montgomery about mid-morning for breakfast at a local restaurant.  My route takes me by a large open field where kids of all ages are being directed by adults in either soccer or flag football games.  There are more big folks than little ones.

Of course, we call this “play.”  But is it really?

Boston College researcher Peter Gray has his doubts.  He is not convinced that a world of “soccer moms” and “helicopter parents” is the best way to raise children.  And he makes a strong case for allowing children to have more time on their own to “play” in this intriguing TED talk.

He feels the erosion of children’s freedom to play in recent years has not been good.  As a result, in the last 50 years in this country we have seen an increase in mental disorders in young people, a drastic increase in suicides and much more anxiety and depression.

He says, “We need more play and less school.”

Finland is often cited for having one of the world’s best school systems.  Play is an integral part of their education system.

William Doyle spent time working at the University of Eastern Finland.  His 7-year old son went to a Finnish primary school.  Here, Doyle recounts the experience.

Two passages especially caught my attention:

“Our mission as adults is to protect our children from politicians,” one Finnish childhood education professor told me. “We also have an ethical and moral responsibility to tell businesspeople to stay out of our building.” In fact, any Finnish citizen is free to visit any school whenever they like, but her message was clear: Educators are the ultimate authorities on education, not bureaucrats, and not technology vendors.

The field was filled with children savoring the first taste of winter amid the pine trees. My son was out there somewhere, but the children were so buried in winter clothes and moving so fast that I couldn’t spot him. The noise of children laughing, shouting and singing as they tumbled in the fresh snow was close to deafening.

“Do you hear that?” asked the recess monitor, a special education teacher wearing a yellow safety smock.

“That,” she said proudly, “is the voice of happiness.”