The article “Societal Values and Policies May Curtail Preschool Children’s Physical Activity in Child Care Centers,” and associated study published yesterday by the American Academy of Pediatrics, shows what we at KaBOOM! have seen happening increasingly over the years: the risk of lawsuits and increased academic competitiveness is harming our children.
In our aggressively litigious culture, we have become so obsessed with controlling risk that children are missing out on opportunities to grow and learn. There is a difference between an injury and an accident. An injury happens when equipment is in disrepair. An accident is just a natural part of growing up. Instead of accepting that a few bumps, bruises and even stitches are an inevitable part of childhood – and can actually be a healthy learning experience – we have somehow come to believe that accidents of any kind should be avoided at all costs.
Play is also under attack in our nation's schools. Shrinking recess and increased homework leave little time for play. And increasingly, cities are building new schools without playgrounds. Despite countless studies proving that play is integral to children's learning and health, most kids aren't getting enough space and time to play during the school day.
The intentions are good. We all want our kids to be safe and to have all of the opportunities available to them. Unfortunately, common sense is victim to these pressures. The key now is to take the results of this and other studies and pivot the conversation away from blame and toward a solution.
We need to create play spaces for our kids that encourage risk-taking and autonomy, allow them to be in control, and give them the time and space they need to exercise their bodies and master certain skills. That is one reason why KaBOOM! has embraced the concept of the Imagination Playground™ which uses loose parts and encourages creativity.
But even the most engaging play spaces won’t help our kids if we don’t shift our societal values to recognize the importance of play in our children’s physical, emotional and cognitive health and development. Once that happens we will automatically start to allocate appropriate financial resources for play spaces and give our kids the time they need to be kids.
When I was a growing up I had plenty of opportunities to play, (and yes, I had plenty of accidents, some of which required stitches) as did most of my peers. It took a generation for play to take a back seat and it will likely take a generation or more to correct itself. We must continue to study the issue, but more importantly, be willing to act when the facts can no longer be denied.