Is our play deficit linked to our children’s growing attention deficit? As we kick off National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week, it’s time to seriously examine the mental repercussions of denying our kids the time and space they need to move and explore—in short, to be kids.
New data from the CDC reveals that 11 percent of school-age children have been diagnosed with A.D.H.D., representing a 41 percent rise in the past decade. About two-thirds of the 6.4 million children who have been diagnosed take a prescription for a stimulant like Ritalin or Adderall.
According to The New York Times, “stimulants can drastically improve the lives of those with A.D.H.D. but can also lead to addiction, anxiety and occasionally psychosis.”
Let’s be clear: doctors and parents know best, but there is an all-natural stimulant that many recognize as effectively addressing our children’s increasing stress and deteriorating mental health: active play. Recent research shows that play in open green spaces was associated with milder symptoms of ADD and ADHD, even in children whose symptoms do not respond to medication. Research also shows that "periods of play improve social skills, impulse inhibition and attention" and results in "neurochemical changes...especially in those brain areas in which ADHD children are deficient."
Though some girls are diagnosed with ADHD, it’s overwhelmingly a “disorder” of boys—boys being boys, in most cases. They were not made to sit in a classroom for six hours per day... They need to be outside playing in tree houses and organizing their own baseball leagues and exploring the woods—even just being quiet by themselves.
Growing trends toward squeezing play out of the school curriculum are forcing our children to sit for longer and at younger ages. According to studies cited in USA Today, “40 percent of U.S. school districts have reduced or eliminated recess to allow more time for core academics,” which is not only worrisome, but actually counterproductive. The American Academy of Pediatrics asserts that among many “cognitive, physical, emotional, and social benefits,” recess improves children’s attention spans and classroom behavior.
In Finland, where students’ test scores top international charts, elementary-aged children get 75 minutes of recess daily. Interestingly, about one percent of children in Finland take a prescription drug to treat A.D.H.D.
Of course, our country’s play deficit extends far beyond school walls. Our children’s homes are filled with screens, and their neighborhoods lack safe places to play.
During National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week, it’s important to acknowledge the vital role of active play when it comes to our children’s happiness and well-being. If teachers, parents, community leaders, and policy makers united to prescribe our children more play, perhaps our doctors would be prescribing fewer pills.
This Saturday, on April 27, GOOD is asking folks around the world to celebrate Neighborday, "a global celebration of the people with whom we share space."
And what better way to celebrate than to turn that space into a place to play? After all, it's not fair that cars always get to hog your street, when it could be filled with hula hoops, bouncy balls, chalk art, and cardboard boxes.
So this Saturday, it's time to claim your street, play with your neighbors, and generally make merry. Just follow our tried-and-true recipe for a perfect playful block party:
How will you celebrate Neighborday?
Illustration by our talented artist in residence, Marian Blair.
Our vision is a playground within walking distance of every child in America, but if we had our way, the same would one day be true for every child in the world. The play deficit is not a uniquely American problem.
It’s telling that in some of the most impoverished countries—where many families struggle for basic necessities, like food, water, and shelter—children still find ways to play. As Sports Without Borders puts it: “There is no childhood without play.”
Here are three inspiring recent initiatives to bring play to children in need:
Peace Corps Volunteer Greg Plimpton tells the story behind the first playground built in the town of San Luis de Canete, Peru:
“As a Peace Corps Volunteer, my first project was to survey local neighborhoods to determine local needs and possible projects. As I went from home to home, I noticed that there were often young children inside, watching television or playing games indoors, even though it was summer and the weather was absolutely gorgeous.
"I was puzzled by this and asked why. I was told there was no safe place for the children to play outside, and homes here are built side by side, with little or no yard. I collaborated with Angel Garcia, my community partner and San Luis Parks and Recreation Director, to write a grant proposal, which was approved by the Mayor and town council. Dozens of my friends contributed the $1200 donations, which the Municipality matched with land, labor, transportation and materials.
"Nearly all the materials were obtained or created locally. Used tires were donated by local tire shops and the local fire house donated rolls of used fire-hose. A last-minute addition was the shade tarp, to temper the intense summer sun of the tropics. The park is PACKED every day. The city has now applied for money from the Federal government to build two more, as well as a skate park. Seeing the smiles and laughter of the children has been one of the highlights of my Peace Corps service.”
In Zanzibar, the One World Futbol Project has partnered with the Zanzibar National Sports Council and Save the Children to distribute 20,000 virtually-indestructible balls to all the schools and youth programs on the islands of Unguja and Pemba. Says Sandra Cress on the One World Futbol blog:
"Even in the hot mid-day sun, with no water to drink and no shoes on their feet, the children play football with abandon. They play with balls that are made up of rags tied together. They play with old soccer balls that have no outside leather left, and no air in them—deflated bladders so that balls just barely roll. They play on the beaches; on the stone streets in Stonetown; on thorny, patchy fields that double as cow pastures. The goals are made up of sticks, PVC pipes, even coconut tree trunks.
"The children imitate the moves of their soccer heroes—Messi, Ronaldo, Mata, Van Persie, and other global soccer superstars. Someone calls a foul, and one child studiously paces off the 10 meters from the free kick. The 'Beautiful Game' helps these children be healthy in unhealthy circumstances. It allows them time to feel good and experience joy, to bond with teammates. Playing soccer helps them learn and follow rules of the game. It builds self-esteem and teaches them to treat each other with respect.
"Mubarak Mambud, the tireless Director of Save the Children, Zanzibar, speaks of how much more attentive and productive children are when they have time to play. Having access to a ball in school even reduces truancy and decreases behavior disruptions in school."
On February 28, a team of 20 traveled to Haiti to install a Kids Around the World (KIDS) playground at an orphanage in Saline Mayette. There are over 100 children in the orphanage and 310 children attending the school. Most of the children come to the orphanage with at least second-degree malnutrition. Using refurbished playground equipment, donated by the Chicago Ridge Park District, KIDS was able to build for $50,000 a playground that would have cost $225,000 to $250,000 in the United States. Says Julie Rearick, the NE Satellite Director of Kids Around the World:
"My favorite part of a playground build was playing with the children. As we worked on building the play structure, the children always gathered around to watch. I took jump ropes and soccer balls along so I could play with them. By the time the playground was dedicated, I already knew a number of the children. There are no words to express the emotions I felt when those children scream with glee and laughter running towards the playground. I have grown to live by this quote: 'I do for one, what I wish I could do for all.' "
Here’s one complaint we frequently hear from families: “All the playgrounds look the same.” They’re right: Many neighborhood playgrounds offer a similar array of equipment, in similar styles and colors. No wonder our kids get bored.
The truly unique playgrounds, where a family might easily wile away an afternoon, tend to be concentrated in downtown areas and require hefty budgets. So how can we bring the thrill, ingenuity, and whimsy of these destination playgrounds to the neighborhood level—without breaking the bank?
Perhaps the answer lies in our trash bins and junkyards. Plastic bottles, car parts, old tires, and shipping containers can all be scavenged, and can each offer unique play opportunities. Don’t believe us? See for yourself:
Would you want one of these playgrounds in your neighborhood?
In his recent State of the Union address, President Obama made the case for expanding access to high-quality preschool opportunities, arguing that “in states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children… studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, form more stable families of their own.”
We know that already, but the question lingers: What does “high-quality” mean? Does a high-quality preschool look like this?
Or like this?
Manhattan mother Nicole Imprescia would likely argue the former—in 2011, she sued her child's preschool because, in her words, "The school proved to be not a school at all, but just one big playroom." Imprescia worried that all this play was ruining her tot's chances of getting into an Ivy League college.
Meanwhile, many early childhood educators emphatically believe that preschool should be one big playroom—and don’t forget about an adjoining outdoor playspace! A recent study by Oregon State University found that the key social and behavioral skills that play develops -- such as paying attention and persisting with a task -- are better predictors of whether or not a child completes college than his or her academic abilities.
Educators like Nancy Carlsson Paige worry that policy mandates, like the Common Core state standards, are already squeezing play out of the preschool curriculum by “causing a pushdown of academic skills to 3, 4 and 5 year olds that used to be associated with first-graders through third-graders.”
A teacher in a Brooklyn kindergarten that has adopted the Common Core standards told The New York Post they are “causing a lot of anxiety.” After watching three different children break down sobbing in the course of one week, the teacher said, “Kindergarten should be happy and playful. It should be art and dancing and singing and learning how to take turns. Instead, it’s frustrating and disheartening.”
Washington Post guest columnist Deborah Kenny wonders if the problem is inherent in standards themselves or in how they are implemented. She points to one teacher who taught his kindergarteners “gravity, anatomy, speed, addition and subtraction, and measurement,” which are all included in the Common Core standards, by building a “life-size paper model of how humans would need to be designed in order to fly.”
Either way, Kenny argues that the “right curriculum for kindergarten” is, without a doubt, play. As we begin to invest more in “high-quality” early childhood education, let’s make sure that “quality” doesn’t mean filling out worksheets at a desk. We know that parents like Imprescia just want what’s best for their children. Let’s listen to the research and make sure that “quality” includes copious amounts of active, creative, sensory, and social play—in the mud and beyond.
What does a quality preschool mean to you?
On November 26, 2011, NASA launched a robotic rover, Curiosity, to explore Martian climate and geology. Since landing on Mars on August 6, 2012, the rover has been traversing the surface in search of extraterrestrial existence.
In a new development, Curiosity has discovered what is believed to be the first sign of life on Mars—a cardboard box playground. The intricate and elephant-sized structure has lead to several conclusions about life on Mars, most notably that Martian kids had powerful imaginations and loved to play, just like kids here on Earth.
Curiosity managed to gather several specimens from the cardboard boxes to help NASA’s scientists determine the chemical makeup of the complex, corrugated layers. Over the coming weeks, these scientists will perform several experiments to examine the samples. Rob Manning, Chief Engineer of the Mars Rover Project said, “When I was a kid I also built cardboard rockets.” Now, thanks to Rob’s team, the rover discovered cardboard boxes on Mars!
KaBOOM! first received word from NASA of the potential for signs of playful life on Mars early last week and quickly brought in our own panel of experts to help verify the findings.
Working closely with certified cardboard box aficionado, Caine Monroy, of Caine’s Arcade, KaBOOM! identified the photos taken by the rover. Caine raved over the Martian kids’ creativity and offered an unlimited Fun Pass to Martians of all ages. Coincidently, just one year ago almost to the day, Caine’s Arcade sent YouTube into a cardboard-filled frenzy.
Other leading play experts—6-year-old Helen and 4-year-old Jake—also consulted with KaBOOM! to determine the authenticity of the cardboard box playground. Re-creating the atmospheric conditions of Mars as well as the playground, Helen and Jake tested it for unique shapes and places to hide. After the child experts gave their stamp of approval, KaBOOM! was ready to go public with the exciting news of imaginative play on Mars.
NASA will hold a press conference tomorrow at 3:00 PM EST to reveal the initial scientific findings behind the discovery. In the interim, we’re honored to be able to share this series of exclusive photos taken from the Curiosity rover, below.
KaBOOM! hopes these images from Mars will allow filmmaker Nirvan Mullick, Director of Caine’s Arcade and Founder of Imagination Foundation, to expand the Global Cardboard Challenge across the galaxy.
“At KaBOOM! we are in the business of making the impossible possible,” says Darell Hammond, Founder and CEO of KaBOOM!. “It seems like the logical next step to take kids’ dreams to infinity and beyond!”
Update (4/2): While we do hope that one day a cardboard box playground will be discovered on Mars, yesterday’s post was a fun April Fool’s Day trick. However, we know that each and every day children travel to Mars and back with a little imagination and creativity. As evidenced by Caine’s Arcade, kids can create a whole lot with a stack of cardboard boxes. Here are some ideas to get you started and who knows, maybe you’ll end up on Mars!
Now that spring has officially sprung, it’s time to enjoy the warmer weather and longer days. Take advantage of the change in seasons with these five outdoor play ideas, and post a comment or send us a tweet to share your own.
Daylight saving time means extra time outdoors! Take a post-dinner trip to the playground and play until the sun goes down. (It’s a great way to make sure your kids get a good night’s sleep.) While you’re there, snap a photo of the setting sun and add your picture to our Map of Play.
Photo by Hari Hamartia (cc).
Don’t let the inevitable April showers deter you from going outdoors. Pull on your boots and get ready to puddle jump. Puddles make for great natural hopscotch courses—use a small rock to determine where to jump next.
Photo by joeltelling (cc).
They say April showers bring May flowers. Hit your nearest park or nature trail and challenge your kids to see how many shapes, sizes, and colors of flowers they can find. (If flowers haven’t sprouted up in your neighborhood, go on a spring scavenger hunt and look for worms, birds’ nests, and flower buds.)
Photo by cabby dave (cc).
Make a pebble your pal by transforming it into your favorite creature. For added fun, paint a dozen and “hide” them throughout your neighborhood to surprise and delight passersby. Unlike eggs, they won’t go rotten!
Photo by Avia Venfica (cc).
What do kids love more than pizza? What about growing their own pizza toppings? Spring is the perfect time to get a garden started—all you need are some seeds and a container or two. If you don’t feel like splurging on flower pots, get creative and use old books or a recycled milk jug. Download our guide to starting a pizza garden or watch this video.
Photo by Rachel Tayse (cc).
Does your family have a favorite springtime game or activity? Share your ideas in the comments section below, or send us a tweet (@kaboom).
All children deserve a childhood. But when faced with external circumstances like illness, war, natural disaster, or extreme poverty, some children risk missing out on the simple joys of running, laughing, discovering, and creating.
As our CEO and Founder Darell Hammond recently pointed out in the World Economic Forum blog: “For a child whose life has been turned upside down, play is absolutely essential for maintaining a sense of stability amid turmoil and helping to work through emotional trauma. This is because play is simple, familiar and joyful – all the things that adversity is not.”
The right to play is universal. Here are three innovative initiatives that are bringing play to children most in need:
In Deir Ezzor, Syria, citizens have set up an underground school and play area to help children cope with the stark realities of war. Before the school opened, 12-year-old Sultan Mussa told the Al Arabiya News, “I spent the whole day closed up at home because my parents were afraid of the bombing and wouldn’t let me go out.” Says principal Beda al-Hassan, “This isn't the sort of life children should have.”
The school holds classes in the evening, when it is less dangerous for children to venture outside, and though its students are unable to play outdoors, they can use the toys, ping pong table, and chess boards to reclaim their childhoods. Ten-year-old Sidra likes coming to school “because I can play here. My house was bombed and I lost all my toys.” The principal’s five-year-old son Qutaiba says, “I can't wait for school to end and for play time to begin.”
In Blantyre, Malawi, a hospital is harnessing the healing power of play by offering its patients an ambulance-turned-playground. The ambulance, repurposed by a pair of Dutch designers, sports a slide, swing, monkey bars, clubhouse area, and fireman’s pole. It is handicap-accessible so that the hospital’s wheelchair-bound patients can play alongside other patients and children from the neighborhood.
Photos via Sakaramenta.
Lastly, the P.L.A.Y. initiative, a pilot program created by UNICEF and supported by our national partner Disney, brings our portable Imagination Playground units to children living in disaster-recovery conditions and extreme poverty. Recently launched in Haiti and Bangladesh, the initiative helps kids living in challenging circumstances to reconnect with their childhood, and return a sense of normalcy to their daily lives. See Imagination Playground in action:
Whether in the United States, Syria or Haiti, kids intuitively understand the importance of play. We just need to make sure that we’re giving them the time and space to be kids.
What do babies and scientists have in common? According to Laura Schulz, an associate professor of brain and cognitive sciences at MIT, they both go through “a systematic process of forming hypotheses and testing them based on observed evidence.”
Though child’s play is naturally compatible with scientific exploration, the United States is failing to nurture its little scientists. We rank 23rd in science among developed countries, diminishing our ability to compete in the global marketplace.
We obsess over test scores, but we should really be encouraging more students like Lauren Rojas (pictured above), a seventh grader in Antioch, Calif., who set out to test the effects of altitude on air pressure and temperature for her science fair project. And what better way to do that than to launch a homemade “rocket” into space using a do-it-yourself balloon kit?
Lauren added her own creative touches to the balloon, fashioning a shiny rocket structure that included a Hello Kitty pilot. "I liked her ever since I was 6 years old," Lauren told the New York Daily News. "My love for Hello Kitty has never gone away and I thought it would be really fun to add a toy inside the rocket." The doll got quite a ride, reaching an altitude of nearly 18 miles. As the balloon expanded to 53 times larger than its original size at takeoff, it eventually burst open, landing in a tree 47.5 miles from the launch sight.
You can watch the journey here:
Lauren was named one of four top award winners at her science fair and will go on to compete in a regional competition. While she learned an unforgettable science lesson on altitude, air pressure, and temperature, we stand to learn a valuable lesson too. Child’s play is not a ‘frivolous’ activity that distracts from ‘weighty’ subjects like science and math. Rather, it is a core component that we must nurture from pre-K to high school—and beyond.
Photo via Contra Costa Times.
Are you getting ready for National Peanut Butter & Jelly Day? What about No Socks Day? There are all sorts of random holidays, but this week we celebrate a different kind of random—Random Acts of Kindness Week.
Here at KaBOOM!, we know all about the joys of spontaneous play. Whether you want to call them playful acts of kindness or random acts of play, here are seven ways to make friends and strangers smile, this week and beyond: