March 10, 2009

Overcoming Barriers to Play

By Michele Whiteaker

I recently read articles about the need for play in the New York Times and Scientific American. Beyond the written evidence, I know its benefits from what I experience on my frequent playground visits. I promote play to everyone, wherever I go. Making play a priority in our lives seems like it should be common sense. It's like saying "eat healthy." We know it's good for us. So why don't we do it more? Here's what I see as the top eight barriers to play:

  1. Permission. Does this harken back to teachers and recess? Must you earn playtime by finishing your work? Nope. You're the grown-up. You make the rules.
  2. Overload of scheduled activities. There's just not enough time for unstructured play amidst school, sports, and other enrichment classes. Cancel something. Schedule free play time on your calendar.
  3. Weather. It's too cold. Too windy. Too wet. Do some research. Bring the outdoors in. Build forts. Go crazy. Allow running in the house.
  4. Laziness and disinterest. It's just easier to stay home. Kids can play in their rooms. Easier for who? The kids need to run around and make discoveries.
  5. Supervision. Outdoor play often requires parental supervision, requiring a sizable time commitment. Parents need the playtime as much as the kids. Don't look at it as a chore. Join in. Bring a little rake and make a Zen garden out of the sandbox.
  6. Distraction. It's a wonder we get outside at all with television, phone calls, e-mail, and video games. I see these technological wonders at the park all the time. Leave the DS at home and the iPhone in your pocket. Focus on the moment. Unplug and be free.
  7. Trouble finding playgrounds. The KaBOOM Playspace Finder is an amazing tool. An army of playground bloggers couldn't hurt the cause either!
  8. Playground condition/community safety issues. Organize your neighborhood to rebuild the playground, start a playground watch or playground cleanup, and coordinate with local police to get the area patrolled more frequently.

Personal choice and effort can conquer these barriers. KaBOOM! is my inspiration for knocking away at those walls. Educate yourself. Explore solutions. Act locally. I guarantee you will make a difference.

Michele is a freelance writer and local playground blogger for Fun Orange County Parks and Fun Colorado Springs Parks. She shares anything and everything play-related on her Play in Every Way personal blog.

studies, play, experts