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If We Don't Let Our Children Play, Who Will Be the Next Steve Jobs?

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Will the next generation have a Steve Jobs?

The forecast doesn't look good. In an era of parental paranoia, lawsuit mania and testing frenzy, we are failing to inspire our children's curiosity, creativity, and imagination. We are denying them opportunities to tinker, discover, and explore -- in short, to play.

Jobs played not just as a child but throughout his adult life. He played to understand how things worked, then he played to invent new things, and then he kept playing to make those things singularly whimsical and "insanely great."

Despite the fact that Jobs is largely credited for the evolution of today's personal computer, he never advocated that kids spend the better part of their waking hours in front of one. In fact, he almost said the opposite:

"The elements of discovery are all around you. You don't need a computer. Here -- why does that fall? You know why? Nobody in the entire world knows why that falls. We can describe it pretty accurately but no one knows why. I don't need a computer to get a kid interested in that, to spend a week playing with gravity and trying to understand that and come up with reasons why."

And instead of merely watching his TV set as a child, Jobs was busy imagining how to build one of his own, drawing from the skills he acquired through his favorite toys:

"These Heathkits would come with these detailed manuals about how to put this thing together and all the parts would be laid out in a certain way and color coded. You'd actually build this thing yourself... These things were not mysteries anymore. I mean, you looked at a television set, you would think that 'I haven't built one of those but I could... ' It gave a tremendous level of self-confidence, that through exploration and learning one could understand seemingly very complex things in one's environment. My childhood was very fortunate in that way."

Despite his insatiable appetite for learning, Jobs often struggled within the confines of a classroom. He would likely perform very poorly on the multiple-choice tests that have become the golden standard for measuring our children's aptitude:

"School was pretty hard for me at the beginning. My mother taught me how to read before I got to school and so when I got there I really just wanted to do two things. I wanted to read books because I loved reading books and I wanted to go outside and chase butterflies. You know, do the things that five year olds like to do. I encountered authority of a different kind than I had ever encountered before, and I did not like it. And they really almost got me. They came close to really beating any curiosity out of me."

We are raising today's children in sterile, risk-averse and highly structured environments. In so doing, we are failing to cultivate artists, pioneers and entrepreneurs, and instead cultivating a generation of children who can follow the rules in organized sports games, sit for hours in front of screens and mark bubbles on standardized tests.

We say we're "protecting" our children. We say we're setting them up to "succeed." Really, we're doing neither, and we're letting an entire generation down. The most fitting way to honor Jobs' legacy? Let our kids outside to play.

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