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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
In some parts, sending your kids outside to play has become a criminal activity. And we're not being melodramatic -- we mean that literally. Over the last few months, three different mothers have been arrested for allowing their children to navigate The Great Outdoors beyond the confines of their homes.
Most recently, a Tammy Cooper in La Porte, Texas was thrown in jail for "child endangerment" after a neighbor called police to report that her children were playing outside on scooters unsupervised. That the neighbor's accusation was actually incorrect -- Tammy was keeping an eye on them from a lawn chair on the sidewalk -- is even beside the point. Tammy and her six- and nine-year-old children live on a cul-de-sac, which should be a perfectly acceptable environment for a couple hours of loosely supervised outdoor play. Though the charges against Tammy were dropped, the ordeal has cost her family over $7,000 in legal fees.
In July, Betty Abena Anane in Manchester, Connecticut was charged with "risk of injury to a minor" after police say she allowed her seven- and 11-year old children to walk a few blocks to buy pizza unsupervised. As one commenter on Free Range Kids put it, "It’s a 10 minute walk on a stunningly ordinary residential street." Here, Google maps shows the route they took:
Outraged yet? Hold on, there's more. In June, April Lawson in Johnson City, Tennessee sent her five- and eight-year-old children to play at a playground a block and a half away from her house. When she sent someone to check on them an hour later, she learned they were not at the playground and immediately called 911. It turned out the kids had left the playground and gone to play at a nearby friend's house, arriving home right before the police arrived.
So after a harmless mix-up, everything was OK, right? Not quite. April spent the night in jail and was booked with felony child abuse and neglect charges.
The basic plot of all three stories is this: Mom trusts her kids to roam around for a few blocks outside. Mom trusts her neighbors to help keep a collective eye on them. Mom gets thrown in jail. Are these the lessons about 'right' and 'wrong' we want our law enforcement officials teaching our kids?
“It’s not fair” is a common refrain amongst children. When in reference to a friend getting more money from the tooth fairy or a sibling getting a slightly larger scoop of ice cream, we adults tend to be dismissive.
But what six-year-old Laurence Howard finds “not fair” is a much more serious claim. A resident of Red Bank Run Townhomes in West Deptford, New Jersey, Laurence says of new outdoor play restrictions imposed by condo management: "It's not fair for all the kids, because we need to play, we need air, it's not fair because everybody has stuff to ride.”
Says Jeziah Lopez, "Being inside just playing video games, it's not good for your body."
"It's not good for our freedom," Antonio Leon chimes in.
According to 6 ABC Action News, children at Red Bank Run Townhomes will no longer be able to ride bikes, scooters, and skateboards in the parking lot and other common areas. Why? Because “the activity could be harmful and even dangerous to [the children] or to others.” From now on, all outdoor play will be relegated to a small playground in the rear of the complex.
It’s no secret that we at KaBOOM! love playgrounds. But we also support children playing in other public spaces, particularly when a playground doesn’t accommodate older children or provide room for bikes, scooters, skateboards and other wheeled devices. We also believe that a group of playing children is perfectly capable of sharing a space with attentive adult drivers.
The real danger, of course, is not kids playing in a parking lot, but kids being forced inside. As the Red Bank Run children astutely point out, to deny them air is not good for their bodies or their freedom. Perhaps the community would be better off if Laurence, Jeziah, and Antonio ran the condo board instead. First up on the agenda? May we suggest a ban on careless drivers in the parking lot?
See the full story here:
“You have to be kidding me.” According to CBS Denver, this was mother Sarah Cohen’s initial reaction when she learned that her neighborhood HOA is trying to ban sidewalk chalk art—and it’s ours, too.
Cohen’s 3-year-old, Emerson, has inadvertently ticked off some of her neighbors, who contend that her chalk drawings of flowers and hearts violate HOA rules because they “offend, disturb, or interfere with the peaceful enjoyment” of their shared space.
Emerson is also using the chalk to learn how to spell her name. The nerve!
Why a child’s whimsical chalk art would disturb anyone’s "peaceful enjoyment" of gray asphalt is simply beyond us. As residents of the Denver neighborhood duke it out in an upcoming meeting, we hope that a child’s right to play will trump an adult’s right to enjoy his asphalt unblemished.
Avert your eyes! This chalk heart is out to disturb your peace!
Photo by stevendepolo.
A city council in Canterbury, UK plans to build housing on a beloved playing field, but neighborhood kids are saying, "Hands off!"
Orla and Timmy, ages 10 and 11 respectively, attended a recent city council meeting to take a stand. Orla said: "It's not just for me and my friends but for all the people of the area who live and breathe better because there is a lovely empty green field nearby."
Said Timmy: "Often in the evenings, I go to the field and play football with my dad and brother. It's very easy to stay indoors and watch TV or play computer games. Please leave our field alone."
Council chief executive Colin Carmichael told ThisIsKent.com that neighbors were consulted about developing the field in 2004 when the plan was to build a primary school there. But the plans fell through and it was earmarked for housing instead.
Angry residents, who feel they were left out of the decision-making process, have gathered over 1,600 signatures on an online petition to save the field. The Canterbury City Council now has to delay its plans and refer its decision to an Overview Committee on June 13.
Let's pay tribute to the dedicated children and families who are stepping up to save play in Canterbury! Tweet your support to @kingsmeadfield and stay tuned for updates.
Photos via Save the Kingsmead Field.
Common sense has triumphed over senseless fear! Last week we lamented an elementary school's recent ban on its longtime "Fridays on the Green" tradition, which was prompted by complaints about safety and unruly behavior. As part of the tradition, 5th graders with parental permission were able to walk downtown by themselves on Friday afternoons to eat ice cream and play on the green.
We are happy to see that both parents and students at Davidson Elementary School shared our outrage and took active measures to overturn the ban. As reported in Davidson News:
Parents over the past two weeks have emailed the school, posted comments on this website and even launched an online petition drive questioning a decision by the school’s former principal to stop letting parents give their fifth-grade students permission to walk to the Village Green on Fridays.
Over 125 townspeople showed up to "Occupy the Green," with kids carrying signs that said, "Trust: It's a tradition" and "We can take care of ourselves."
The parents must now absolve the school of liability when granting their kids permission to walk to the Green, but as so aptly put by Lenore Skenazy of Free Range Kids, who helped us spread the word about the petition: "If a slightly obsessive, overkill waiver is what it takes to give kids back the best part of being fifth graders, so be it."
A parent told Davidson News, "It’s a victory for the people – and ice cream." And, we would add, a victory for unstructured outdoor play!
Once upon a time, an elementary school in Davidson, N.C. had a lovely tradition. On Friday afternoons, fifth graders with parental permission left the confines of their classroom to play on the Village Green. And the best part? They did it all by themselves!
But the school has decided to ban on the longtime tradition—even with an OK from mom and dad, students can no longer walk to the Green from school. Instead, they must ride home on the school bus or get picked up by their parents.
Why? The school’s interim principal told Davidson News that “students are too young to be out without an adult.” The ban was prompted by complaints about safety and unruly behavior.
Davidson residents used to see around a hundred students congregating on the Green and strolling down Main Street on any given Friday afternoon. But after the ban was enacted, the town center was “eerily quiet, with only a handful of students visible,” according to Davidson News. “One group of four fifth-grade girls said their parents had picked them up at school and dropped them off downtown. But playmates were few.”
We live in an era where children are playing outdoors less than any previous generation. The average child spends over seven hours a day in front of a screen and one in three is overweight or obese. Unfounded safety fears and litigious threats routinely prevent our children from challenging themselves and developing independence.
Amidst all this madness, the Fridays on the Green tradition provided Davidson fifth graders with a crucial opportunity to learn self-sufficiency, get exercise, and reap the educational benefits of unstructured outdoor play.
This is exactly what kids should be doing on a Friday afternoon. Photo by Visit Greenwich (cc).
We have a happy ending to one of our previous Play Hater stories.
Back in October, we reported about a Fairfax, VA zoning board that ordered Iraq War veteran Mark Grapin to take down the tree house he built in his backyard for his two sons. The zoning board issued the order because Grapin's home is on the corner of his street, technically making his backyard a front yard according to zoning regulations.
The story started making local and national headlines and a Change.org petition was quickly launched, asking the Farifax County Board of Zoning Appeals to reverse the order to destroy the tree house. On November 30th, The Washington Post reported that the board voted 5-0 in Grapin’s favor, allowing the tree house to stay up, provided they plant some more trees around the house.
We applaud the board’s decision and are thankful that Grapin’s boys will have a place to spend hours of imaginative outdoor play.
Photo credit: Mark Grapin, The Washington Post.
A tree house in Fairfax, Va. may soon meet an untimely demise. That is, if the Fairfax County zoning board gets its way.
When he left for Iraq, Mark Grapin, an Army aviation specialist, promised his two sons he would build them a tree house when he got home. He wanted to give them a special hideaway, the kind that he had growing up, when according to The Washington Post, he and his friends “built a tree house using bent nails, apple crates and whatever else they could scavenge.”
In this day and age, Grapin knew his childhood tree house would be a lawsuit waiting to happen. So when he returned from Iraq, he invested $1,400 to build a sturdy structure and made sure to contact the county to ask if he needed any special permits. He was assured he did not. It was only after he built the thing that the county board of zoning enforcement told him he had to take it down.
Why? Because Grapin owns a corner lot, and his backyard is actually considered a front yard, meaning he has to follow the zoning code. Merni Fitzgerald, a spokeswoman for the county, told The Washington Post, “It’s no different from a shed or a garage or any structure.”
Well, except that it’s a tree house. It’s one of the coolest things a kid could ask for, inviting hours of imaginative outdoor play not only for Grapin’s sons but for their friends in the broader community. To destroy it over a zoning technicality sends the message that we care more about rules and regulations—whether or not they make sense—than we do about the health of our children.
Grapin appealed the zoning board’s initial ruling and on Nov. 30, he has one last opportunity to plead his case. Let’s join forces to tell the Fairfax County Zoning Board to let the tree house stay!
Photo credit: Mark Grapin, The Washington Post.
Keep out! According to the New York Post, the real estate firm Related Companies has padlocked the entrance to the only playground in the city’s most densely populated neighborhood. Not only that, it has hired private security guards to patrol the area.
For more than 25 years, Ruppert Playground has served a vital role for residents of Community Board 8, which ranks dead last in publicly accessible recreational space. Related wants tax breaks to keep the park open. If the city fails to meet its demands, neighborhood children will pay the price.
Related has owned Ruppert Playground since 1983, when it bought the site from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) as part of an urban renewal plan. It agreed to maintain the park for public use until 2008 in exchange for tax breaks.
Now, Related wants more tax breaks to keep the playground open—and if the company doesn’t get what it wants, it may just go ahead and build a high rise there instead.
The community has long opposed the sale of Ruppert Playground to Related, and for years, NYC Park Advocates has been campaigning for the city to reacquire the park. They say:
"Allowing this heavily-used park to be developed will have a serious impact on the quality of life for tens of thousands of residents. [The park] is a unique public space where teenagers, pre-schoolers, adults and seniors coexist… [it] is used 365 days a year and… provides desperately-needed recreational and green amenities."
It’s time to stand up for a child’s right to play! Join us in petitioning the CEO and President of Related Companies to demand that they unlock Ruppert Playground and give it back to New York City.
Keep out, kids! Why don't you go inside and watch some TV instead?
Photo by Nathanael Boehm (cc).
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.