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"Play. That's the best way kids learn -- doing something they enjoy." Trish Thomas, America's Most Playful Family Contest winner
Much ado has been made lately about summer learning loss—and many assume that the antidote is more school. Whether that takes the form of summer school, year-round school, or computer camp, we have come to believe that more indoor desk time is what our kids need to avoid the "summer slide."
But the beauty of summer for children is freedom—freedom to move, freedom to explore, and freedom to choose how to spend a lazy afternoon. Summer is a time to hunt for insects, master handstands, practice swimming strokes, and devour novels on a front-porch hammock.
Sadly, all too many children these days spend their summers sitting indoors in front of screens, or getting rushed from math camp to soccer practice. They are missing out. A summer filled with unstructured outdoor play, complemented by a healthy dose of reading, can not only prevent summer learning loss but can challenge, exercise, and open children’s minds in new ways. Outdoor play promotes creativity, hones life skills, and enhances physical health; meanwhile, as noted by Let’s Read. Let’s Move., reading just five books over the summer can go a long way toward prevent learning loss.
In this day and age, providing the right environment for kids to play and read may take a bit of legwork on the parents’ part. Most kids these days won’t pick up a jump rope or book if they’re not conditioned to do so. It’s up to the parents to limit screen time and make books and unplugged play equipment—think sidewalk chalk, Frisbees, and even cardboard boxes—readily available.
These efforts will bear fruit. Kids who view reading as a chore will find it easier and more enjoyable the more they do it. (In fact, once they find a story that hooks them, it might be hard to get them to stop!) Likewise, in the right environment, kids who are afraid of “being bored” without electronic distractions will eventually find creative ways to spend their time. As our Park-A-Day Challenger Angie Six has aptly pointed out:
“I think many of our children don't really identify with the feeling of being bored. They rarely have the opportunity to be bored, and so when they're faced with nothing to do and nowhere to go, it's uncomfortable.
Some of the things [my children] have come up with when bored? Face painting, building block towns for their cars, unique Lego/K'nex creations, playing ‘summer camp’ in the yard, and my favorite: forming their own band, writing a song, and performing on our very-deserted-at-2 p.m.-on-a-Wednesday street corner.”
Kids also learn by example, so if you want them to read and play, set aside some time to do it yourself. Go to the park, set up lawn chairs in front of your house, or take an urban hike. Bring books on family outings so that everyone can enjoy some downtime resting and reading together.
Let’s give our children the freedom to explore the worlds that exist beyond classroom walls. There is so much out there to learn!
A slightly modified version of this post originally appeared on the National Service Blog. We're excited to support the Corporation for National and Community Service's Let's Read. Let's Move. campaign—get involved by accessing their toolkit and starting a reading service project here.
This week, we at KaBOOM! had a chance to practice what we preach. We talk a whole lot about the power of volunteering, so on Wednesday, Dec. 15, we set out to give a little back to nine nonprofits in the San Francisco Bay Area, Chicago, Washington DC, and Manhattan (er, that's Manhattan, Kansas) -- all areas where we have staff.
It's always inspiring to see the great work of other nonprofits, and we learned a few things about critical issues like hunger, education, disease, and the environment. After mobilizing over 42,000 volunteers in 2010, we appreciate the opportunity to put in some grunt work and lend our own helping hands. Here we are in action:
Staff in our San Mateo, Calif. office helped restore natural wetland habitats for Save the Bay. They have vowed to never use plastic bags again.
Our lone staff member in Manhattan, Kan. picked up and sorted food donations from area restaurants for the Flint Hill Breadbasket, contributing nearly 1,000 pounds of food, which he had the pleasure of lifting, moving, and re-moving several times.
KaBOOM! staff provided climbing equipment (i.e. our backs) for toddlers and preschoolers at Jubilee Jumpstart, which offers quality, affordable childcare to predominantly low-income families in Washington, DC.
Staff wore themselves (and their backs) out by moving school supplies for Hyde Leadership Public Charter School, where KaBOOM!, the Hyde community, and four White House Secretaries built a playground on Make a Difference Day. Hyde is now in the process of relocating to their new site (and their new playground!) so we chipped in to help.
We sorted books at DC Prep, a rigorous school that aims to prepare students from urban communities for successful academic futures. It was tough to avoid the temptation to curl up in a corner and read all day.
Where does the music teacher put her keys? (Scroll down for the answer.) At our DC office, we compiled gift bags for sick children at the Children's Inn and Children's National Medical Center. The bags included KaBOOM! kazoos and little jokes.
At the Capital Area Food Bank, staff sorted food donations, including endless cans of corn and beans. They encourage everyone making a food donation to not just clean out their pantry but to consider purchasing a variety of non-perishable food items.
We hope you make some time to give back this holiday season! And in case you were wondering, the music teacher keeps her keys in the piano.
Adults these days have a curious notion that kids are not capable of doing much on their own. From our increasingly distorted perspective, kidnappers lurk around each corner, and every activity that children engage in, from bobbing for apples to running on a playground, pose a potential threat to their safety and well-being.
That's why we love to hear about young people taking initiative, whether by walking to school all by themselves or starting a service project. In his latest Huffington Post piece, our CEO and co-founder Darell Hammond shares amazing stories about youth who are taking it upon themselves to make a difference. He asserts:
My organization advocates for a child's right to play, but we also believe in the many benefits of service. Youth who volunteer are less likely to engage in risky behavior, feel more connected to their communities, and tend to perform better in school. And, like play, service has been shown to increase young people's self-esteem; aid in their psychological, social, and cognitive development; and teach them empathy.
Perhaps what's more important is that young people like volunteering. In a culture of over-protective parents who barely trust children to tie their own shoes, service can help kids feel both independent and useful. Youth who volunteer strongly agree with statements such as, "I would like to help make the world a better place," and "It's important to do things for others." In 2004, only 5% of students surveyed became involved with volunteering through a school requirement.
Read more about young people and service here.
In July, we celebrated our 1,800th playground build. Well, we’ve had a busy few months! Since then, we’ve helped build a hundred more. The new playground at Colette’s Children’s Home in Placentia, Calif. marks our 1,900th build.
On Saturday, October 30, nearly 300 volunteers gathered to help provide nearly 100 children at this transitional home for at-risk women and children with a safe place to play annually. The Smile Generation, committed to bringing smiles to people’s faces, partnered with KaBOOM! to serve the women and children of Colette’s.
Even though rain clouds and grey skies welcomed volunteers, the sun came out to greet them during the opening ceremonies. In addition to moving mulch and mixing concrete, volunteers planted over 50 donated palm trees and painted a large Smile Generation mural.
Before & after
During the day, Elmo, the Cookie Monster, Hello Kitty and Minnie Mouse stopped by to share a dance with the kids. Pacific Dental also hosted a free dental clinic and performed over an estimated $200,000 of free dental work.
Congrats to Colette’s on their new playground and special thanks to The Smile Generation for helping to make it possible! For more photos, visit the build day photo gallery.
In Memphis, Tenn., an 11-year-old boy decided that his school needed a playground. As part of a class writing assignment, Triston Gillon decided to compose a letter to Peter Davoren, chairman and CEO of Turner Corp, to ask for help. Peter wrote back -- and enclosed a check for $50,000.
Triston is proof that children can accomplish amazing things if they put their minds to it. YesKidzCan, a new online network, recognizes the untapped potential of our nation's little ones by offering fun, tangible ways to bring giving experiences into lives.
In their words:
Our philosophy is this: Do what you can! If you have one special time during the year you devote to community service – great! If you like to read books or talk at the dinner table about community service, terrific! If you would like to assemble a group of friends and have a group effort – great again! By nurturing an interest and appreciation for giving back at an early age, YesKidzCan! is helping develop the community service leaders of tomorrow.
YesKidzCan offers downloadable "Acts of Kindness" community service kits, with lots of ideas for keeping your kids busy, whether it's baking dog biscuits to donate to local animal shelters or painting murals on hospital walls.
We at KaBOOM! are big fans of play, but we're also not opposed to putting kids to work! Especially if that work is for the greater good.