Researchers get it. Parents get it. Teachers get it. And kids most certainly get it.
Instinct and common sense dictate that recess is a vital and productive component of the school day, but some people still don’t get it. Superintendant Mark Conrad in Nashua, N.H. is one such person.
Conrad and Nashua elementary school principals have decided to eliminate a second 15-minute recess period for 2nd – 5th grade students. Conrad asserts that the second recess period creates a "significant disruption" in the school day, according to the Nashua Telegraph, and sometimes results in a "significant loss of learning." Students will instead use those 15 minutes for “enrichment in math and reading.”
Conrad adds, “Very few districts have a second recess.” It’s true—eliminating recess periods is not a trend limited to Nashua, despite that fact that it flies in the face of multiple studies proving that recess improves classroom behavior. That’s not to mention that children in Finnish elementary schools—who get an average of 75 minutes of recess a day—consistently rank higher than U.S. children in International Student Assessment Scores.
Really, what good is 15 more minutes of math if kids can’t concentrate? Recess doesn’t disrupt the school day; rather, it energizes children’s bodies and minds. They return to the classroom refreshed and ready to learn.
It’s time to speak out against Conrad’s decision and the many similar decisions being made in school districts across the United States. Join us to defend our children’s right to play by signing our Back-to-School Pledge!
When you sign, we'll get you started with a PDF copy of How to Save Play at Your School—featuring 15 action ideas for teachers and parents to make school grounds and school days more playful.
Now, UK health minister Anne Milton is talking about enacting “play streets” across the country to help tackle its childhood obesity problem. In fact, the idea isn’t new: According to the BBC, the UK had over 700 play streets in the 1950s, but the idea “slowly died out.”
Milton has discussed closing certain streets on Sundays as part of a national effort to get kids and families moving, provide more space for kids to play, and set aside regular time for neighbors to convene and socialize.
It sounds like a no-brainer, but the proposal is drawing its share of criticism. Its most vehement opponent, Association of British Drivers' chairman Brian Gregory, told Autoblog UK, "It's not so long ago that the government assured us it was ending the war on the motorist. We pay several times over to use our roads, not be banned from them.”
Says Claire Armstrong, spokeswoman for Safe Speed, "It may also deprive many people, including those without children, from having proper, necessary and rightful access [to roads] when there are such few alternatives.”
While RAC Foundation Director Stephen Glaister concedes that “promoting places to play is a great idea,” he insists that “children need to be outside on more than one day a week – and the middle of the road is not the best place."
Glaister is absolutely right that children need to be outside more, and that’s why it’s important to provide them with as many accessible, affordable, community-oriented opportunities to unplug as possible. And many children will contend that the middle of the road is a wonderful place to play – if those pesky cars don’t get in the way!
Play streets can be—and are being—organized locally, but to get an entire country behind a play street initiative would help highlight the importance of play to our children’s health, and also set a significant precedent for other countries, states, and cities to follow.
Sign our online petition to express your support for play streets and to convince the opposition that a countrywide initiative does not have to infringe on motorists’ rights!
The only good thing about Play Haters is that they often give rise to Play Heroes. In this simultaneously uplifting and disheartening story, four teenagers took a stand against a decades-old law in Toronto, Canada that bans children from playing hockey on residential streets.
Andrew Polanyi, age 13, insisted, “Roads aren’t only for cars.” He said of street hockey: “It’s fun for us, and it keeps us active, not to always play video games.” Andrew and three friends brought a petition with more than 125 signatures to City Hall a few weeks ago to request that the ban be lifted.
The boys have found an ally in Councilor Josh Matlow, who plans to bring a motion to a city council meeting that allows kids to play hockey in the street as long as their parents agree to assume liability for the risks involved. Though the current ban is not often enforced, Matlow points out, “If one person calls and complains – not only can [the children] be booted off the street, but they can be ticketed for $55." In this lawsuit-happy day and age, Matlow’s proposed measure is probably the teens’ best bet.
However, Councilor Denzil Minnan-Wong supports keeping the ban in place, deferring to a report prepared by the transportation department that outlines the risks associating with repealing the ban. Minnan-Wong admits that 95 percent of children who play hockey in the street likely aren’t at risk, but he still insists that “there has to be some way in which the 5% of the ones [children] who... do create a hazard to both themselves and motorists... where police can come out and make sure safety is enforced.”
Like so many bans created to limit risk and ensure the safety of our children, the street hockey ban focuses not on the vast majority of children who would actually benefit from the activity, but rather on the tiny fraction who might get hurt. The result? We push our children indoors, sterilize their childhoods, and take away the challenges that help them grow and learn. In the end, we hurt all our children by living in fear of hurting a few.
Join our online petition to encourage Minnan-Wong to support Matlow’s motion, which is expected to be heard by the city council in mid-May. Let the parents decide whether or not their children can go out and play!
Yet again, bureaucrats are trying to regulate the fun right out of childhood. In New York, the State Department of Health recently went public with a list of classic games that pose a “significant risk of injury,” including wiffleball, red rover, dodgeball, kickball, freeze tag, capture the flag, and tetherball—in short, any active outdoor game that kids actually enjoy playing.
Under the new regulations, a summer program that allows children to play these deadly games would classify as a “camp” and subjected to state regulation. This means smaller programs would be forced to pay $200 to register as a camp and pay for additional medical staff.
Luckily, Play Hero Patty Ritchie, a New York State Senator, has stepped in to advocate for some good old-fashioned common sense. Worried that the new list of “risky” activities would cripple local summer youth programs, she told TIME, “having kids sitting in the corner instead of outside playing isn’t the point of a quality summer camp anyway.” She has asked the Health Department to rethink the guidelines—and miraculously, they are doing just that.
Public comment on the issue is still open until May. Please join us to support our children’s right to play kickball, and perhaps, in the process, to scrape up their knees. Sign our online petition to tell New York Health Department Public Affairs Director Claudia Hutton to allow summer youth programs to share the joy of red rover without the red tape.
It looks like an innocent game of kickball. But really, it's an injury just waiting to happen...
The only good thing about a Central Florida Homeowner Association’s proposed ban on letting kids play outside is that it has caused so much outrage. The Persimmon Place HOA’s new list of proposed rules includes no running, no playing tag, and no “act[ing] boisterously on the association property.”
That’s not to mention no playing at all in “common areas” or parking lots. And children must be “under the direct control of a responsible adult at all times.” What happens to kids who break the rules? Their families could get slapped with a $100 fine.
The proposed ban is not only ridiculous, it may even be illegal. We reported a similar story last year about a condo association in Methuen, Mass., which was fining families $500 for letting their kids play outside. The association was subsequently charged by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for discriminating against families with kids.
This song says it all:
HOA board member Kim Scott said of residents with children, “They came in and rented (a home) in a community that does not have a playground and is not conducive to children. Then they expect the children to play in the driveways and parking lot. You wouldn't see them playing in the parking lot at Walmart or Kmart, but they come here and turn the children loose.”
Here’s a bright idea – instead of effectively banning outdoor play, why not build a playground? Or at the very least, can a “common area” be designated a play area, and can drivers using the parking lot exercise some common sense and try their darndest to avoid colliding with playing children?
As long as children are allowed at Persimmon Place, the HOA should seek to accommodate, not restrict, their right to play.
Join our online petition to tell Kim Scott and other HOA members to scrap this outrageous ban.
From the other side of the globe comes this bizarre story about Namatakula Village in Nadroga, Fiji, where primary and secondary school children are no longer allowed to play after 6 p.m. during the week.
The village headman Jovilisi Natoya told The Fiji Times:
"This is to ensure that the children concentrate on their studies instead of wasting time playing during the evenings... I go around the village every evening to check, and if any child is caught playing after 6pm, then my role as the village headman is to chase them home" (emphasis ours).
Just as we do here in the United States, villagers are casting "study" and "play" as mutually exclusive, lauding the benefits of "study" while entirely disregarding the rich and varied learning opportunities that play presents. And clearly, "study" is something best done indoors at home, where children in Namatakula must now be cooped up every evening, despite their country's tropical climate.
It's a sad world where the adults in charge police the very activites that are essential for our children's health, happiness, and cognitive development. How we wish that the village headman Notoya were instead making evening rounds to knock on doors and commanding children to, "Go outside and play!"
"Don't even THINK about going outside to play! Back to your studies!" Photo by Stephanie Hicks (cc).
Read the full story in The Fiji Times.
There has been a flurry of research lately about the importance of physical activity and outdoor play when it comes to children's academic performance, but some folks clearly aren't paying attention. Among them is Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell, who vetoed a bill last week that would have required all elementary and middle school students in Virginia to participate in 150 minutes of physical activity a week, in addition to recess.
The bill passed 37-2 in the Senate and 55-40 in the House, but Governor McDonnell had the final say. He was not only concerned about increased physical activity taking away from classroom time, but also about funding the initiative. Yet as our CEO and Founder Darell Hammond points out in his Huffington Post piece, "Why All Schools Should Require More P.E.":
Government funding is largely a matter of priority, and by passing the bill, McDonnell would have demonstrated to the people of Virginia that the state is serious about children's health. The reality of implementation would have lent urgency to a problem that we as a country have let languish for far too long.
He goes on to say:
In Virginia, 24 percent of children are on Medicaid and one in three is overweight or obese. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Virginia has the 14th-highest obesity-related health care costs in the 50 states. Clearly, the childhood obesity epidemic is already costing the Virginia government a significant chunk of money--so why refuse to invest money in a long-term solution?
It's important to remember that the bill is not the only solution. Childhood obesity is a multi-pronged problem that requires a multi-pronged plan of attack. As opponents of the bill rightly point out, schools certainly can't be expected to shoulder the entire burden of "fixing" the problem, but they can still play an important role.
We are deeply disappointed in McDonnell's decision. The bill not only would have helped improve the health and well-being of Virginia's children, but it could have set a precedent for other states to follow. Sign our online petition to tell McDonnell that you are disappointed by his veto and to encourage him to prioritize physical activity for Virginia's children.
It’s a dangerous world, and it seems that few places these days are more dangerous than your local playground. While see-saws plot to crush your children’s fingers, jungle gyms tempt them to climb to dizzying heights, and swings gleefully eject them onto potentially inadequate safety surfacing.
Now, school inspectors in New Jersey have identified yet another playground menace: trees. Yes, sadly, trees are not the friendly oxygen-giving, shade-offering specimens we have long assumed them to be. No, instead they are the bearers of “suspended hazards” (i.e. branches) that children just might run into or trip over. To eliminate this threat, the director of a rural child-care facility in Moorestown, N.J., Sue Maloney, has been ordered to remove all tree branches below 7.5 feet from the school property, or risk jeopardizing its safety record.
Maloney, who has been running Moorestown Children’s School since 1981, has never before been told that the trees pose a problem, and has long enjoyed watching children play with and around the branches. In her 30 years on the job, these branches have yet to injure a child, and she feels that removing them would be “fundamentally changing a great place for children.”
Maloney says, “As we attempt to preserve children's access to natural spaces, we also need to create a body of evidence that speaks to the reality that children are able to be safe on them.”
Maloney is on a mission to convince the inspectors to reconsider their orders, and you can help! Sign this online petition to send a message to Jane Minnella, Supervisor of Child Care Quality Assurance Inspections for the State of New Jersey’s Office of Licensing.
Help! Will someone please save this child from mortal peril?! Photo by theunquietlibrarian (cc).
What should you do when you see your neighbors' children playing outside? Why, you should call the police, of course. Or at least, that's what one neighbor did in Florida, according to our star playmaker Meg Rosker. Here, Meg shares the full story:
"Tonight the cops showed up at our house. This isn't something that has ever happened to our family, so I was surprised to find a police car in front of our home when I returned from a bike ride with our youngest son. I saw all the kids running around out front, so I knew no one was hurt or missing. My next thought was, 'What have they done?'
Our kids run pretty free up and down our quiet, beachy street. There are a few other families that live near by and the kids spend a lot of time outside riding bikes and running from yard to yard making up wild games of chase and 'capture the girls.'
I parked my bike and walked up to the front door, where my husband and the policeman were chatting. This is a very small place. We know all the policemen and they know us, but the most we have ever interacted is a friendly wave or a quick 'hello' as they pass by with their windows down, enjoying the tropical breezes.
It turns out our neighbor across the street had come over earlier in the afternoon to speak with my husband about the fact that one of our other neighbors (who also has kids) puts out a safety cone that says 'Children at Play' when the children are indeed 'at play.' The first neighbor, whose children are grown, complained that this cone was blocking traffic and shouldn't be sitting in front of his house. The cone is intended to slow traffic, but does not block it.
Since my husband apparently did not given him a satisfactory response regarding this issue, he called the police. He then proceeded to complain not only about the cone, but also about the way our kids are dirtying the street by kicking up gravel from the driveway.
The police just warned us to be careful and then left. There wasn't much more they could do, as we weren't breaking any laws. But there should be a law against being that grouchy."
Meg Rosker has been featured before in this blog for her great letter to the editor about the importance of play, her petition to reinstate recess in her school district, and the mention of her in The New York Times' article, "Effort to Restore Children's Play Gains Momentum." Take a look at her wonderful new blog, Let Children Play.
WATCH OUT! There are whiffle-ball-wielding criminals on the loose! Photo by Ian Britton (cc).
Help us ensure that ALL children get the space, time, and permission to play! Take action today at SavePlay.org.
Other Play Haters:
Let there be noise! That’s what the city of Brooklyn has ruled after neighbors of Brooklyn’s P.S. 139 playground requested that it be closed on Sundays to allow them some peace and quiet. After the city informed residents that the playground would stay open, some threatened to resort to Plan B: file a lawsuit.
We do sympathize with the neighbors’ concerns. The playground, which is part of a public school, has recently been opened to the general public on evenings and weekends as part of Mayor Bloomberg’s "Schoolyards to Playgrounds" initiative. That means increased and prolonged noise for the surrounding community. And as if playing children aren’t noisy enough, the U-shaped building that encloses the playground amplifies their screams and shouts.
But—and yes, there is a ‘but’—as much as adults need their rest, children need to play, every day. The weekend offers them unstructured time to do so, and should P.S. 139 close on Sundays, some kids would miss out on a vital opportunity to run around, socialize, and unleash their creative juices.
One neighbor claims that the noise is a health issue, telling the New York Daily News, “It raises my blood pressure.” Do you know when else causes high blood pressure? Lack of exercise. And as childhood obesity increases, so do rates of hypertension amongst our nation’s little ones. Daily outdoor play is absolutely essential to our children’s health and well-being.
"I AM A CHILD AND I LIKE TO MAKE NOISE!" Photo by Jari Schroderus (cc).
P.S. 139’s neighbors, while rightfully frustrated, seem to be pitting the interests of the children against their own, rather than finding a common way forward. Can the city employ soundproofing techniques to decrease noise levels? Can the weekend hours be reduced to give nearby residents a bit more rest? Can volunteers form a playground watch to help monitor excessive noise?
If all other options have already been explored and the only avenue left for residents is to sue, well then, it is their inalienable American right, for better or for worse. Let’s just hope they never move to Berlin, Germany, where children have been legally granted the “right to be noisy.” That’s right—in Berlin, a child’s right to play trumps an adult’s right to peace and quiet—and even an adult’s right to sue.
Help us ensure that ALL children get the space, time, and permission to play! Take action today at SavePlay.org.
Other Play Haters: