The Anarchy Zone

July 2014. Originally copyrighted and posted in "Type for Life" by the Center for the Applications of Psychological Type, Gainesville, FL. Used with permission.

No, I am not making a political statement. I'm talking about a movement in children's playgrounds to encourage unstructured play.

Take a bunch of hay bales, some old tires, some planks, and maybe a climbing tree with an adult playworker…and what do you have: the Anarchy Zone.

Or create a huge mud puddle, add some tires and planks, buckets, tools and an adult playworker and voila…the Anarchy Zone.

Now, who seems to have the most trouble adapting to these playgrounds? Well, it's the parents! (Ha, I bet you were thinking I was going to suggest a particular type or two!!) Those playgrounds just do not look neat and clean and pretty. And after playing with them, the children do not look neat and clean either.

Why are Anarchy Zones catching on?

Here are several reasons:

  • Kids who play outside in nature are more likely to enjoy nature as adults, and nature has a positive effect on mental health.
  • Kids who play on these unstrucured playgrounds are less likely to get injured than those who play on the more structured ones.
  • Kids who take risks when they are young are less likely to indulge in risky behaviors (like drugs) later on. (As an aside, a friend's granddaughter in Norway is just "graduating" from her preschool to elementary school at the age of six. To mark this passage, her school presents her with a jack knife. She is trusted with this potentially risky instrument and is immensely proud of it; of course, she has been taught how to use it properly.)

Now if we look at this through the lens of type, what we are doing is encouraging the development of both Sensing and Intuition.

Sensing will help kids identify what is exactly there. What are they playing with? Are the materials soft, hard, movable, pileable? They have to pay attention to reality to make things work.

Intuition will help kids figure out different ways to play with the objects. Will they make forts, mountains, caves, or mud pies? They have to look for possibilities. And there's no one right way to play.

We're asking children to develop their Intuitive-Perceiving (NP) side to explore — they'll stay open to possibilities and switch things around constantly if they wish.

They're also utilizing their Sensing-Judging (SJ) side to learn exactly how things work, and they can test these things in order to keep themselves safe.

In these scenarios we have faith in our children and believe they can be in the Anarchy Zone and still thrive. With all the apparent chaos in our world, adults may at times feel a strong sense of impending anarchy. We need to access SJ and NP strengths throughout our lives. Why not get started in childhood?