We have long been proponents of the cardboard box. Not only is it cheap and 100% recyclable, but it opens the doors to all kinds of imaginative play.
This inspiring video, created by Studiocanoe, "tells the story of a boy who meets and befriends a large cardboard box." As the story aptly demonstrates, it's often the simplest of toys that provide the richest play opportunities:
Signs like this make us sad. Why should a perfectly good playground sit unused?
If there's a playground in your community that's all locked up, download our Joint Use Toolkit to learn how you can open it to the public after hours and on weekends.
"If we don't let our children play, who will be the next Steve Jobs?" Last year our CEO & Founder Darell Hammond posed this question in his Huffington Post blog. Judging from the nearly 25,000 readers who shared the post via social media, clearly some other folks are wondering, too.
Well, we just may have found him. Audri, the seven-year-old featured in this video, has built his very own "Monster Trap," similar in concept to the mouse trap in the popular board game of the same name -- except way cooler.
As Dr. Alison Gopnik aptly noted in a recent presentation at our annual Play Academy, "The point of play is not getting the right answers, it's getting all the wrong answers." Audri seems to intuitively understand this, remarking of his contraption: "I think it will have 10 to 20 failures and two successes. That's my hypothesis."
See if Audri's hypothesis proved correct:
Would you let your children build this? We stumbled across this amazing photo on the blog, Mama's Minutia. Says Jennifer Jo, the author and mother of the children pictured:
"There is a shift that takes place when your kids gain the skills to construct monumental forts that reach truly frightening heights. I’m not exactly sure what to do with their newfound ability to threaten their physical well-being."
For more photos and the wonderful story behind this homemade jungle gym, including its eventual demise, read the full post, "rise and fall."
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 recently received this note from Bridget, a concerned parent who is having a hard time finding playgrounds that stimulate and challenge her 10- and 11-year-old children. We're hoping our readers can help her out! Here's Bridget:
I came across your website and blog via a link from our kids' school. They are raising money to build a new playground to replace the old playground.
And I'm worried.
I'm worried because every single playground renovation in our town so far has taken a playground that was fun for lots of kids and replaced it with a boring, plain vanilla metal structure that is uninteresting for anyone older than seven. My kids are 10 and 11 and they are extremely upset that the really cool wooden structure is coming down, because "they're just going to replace it with another stupid tot lot" (their words).
I would love to get involved with the playground renovation, but I refuse to donate money to an enterprise that is going to put up a boring metal structure. A different parents' group in town did this a few years ago -- raised money for a playground that was supposed to be designed for older kids. When it finally arrived, it was apparent that their idea of "older kids" was maybe five year olds. My kids went to the new playground (and they were about seven or eight at the time) and basically said, "That's it? What a rip off!"
Do you have resources that one could point the committee to say, "This is a good structure for kids older than seven?" Also, is there any reason why the really awesome wooden playgrounds don't get built anymore? They're always the best, but they seem to be a rapidly vanishing species. When the really great one in the center of our town came down (mostly due to paranoid parents calling it dangerous because kids occasionally got splinters) my kids basically stopped going to playgrounds because there is nothing to do there -- "the structures are for babies!"
I really want to fight this trend. What can I do?
Do you have advice for Bridget?
Photo by theloushe (cc).
Most mothers were sitting on benches around the perimeter watching their kids on trampolines, except for this one mom who had pulled a chair up close and was shouting, “Whee!” each time her child jumped. I knew she was American.
Pamela Druckerman, author of the new book Bringing Up Bébé describes this scene on a Paris playground in a recent interview with Macleans. Amongst the many differences she notes between American and French parenting styles is the "belief in America that we must always stimulate our kids." In France, by contrast, "children are given freedom to play by themselves, and to cope with frustration and boredom."
Druckerman goes on to say:
... when American parents come to my house, they’re constantly engaged with their children resolving spats, or getting down on the ﬂoor and playing Lego. We never finish a conversation, certainly not a cup of coffee. When French families come over, the kids go off and play by themselves and we adults have coffee.
We've written before on this blog about the benefits of boredom and the importance of children engaging in free, unstructured play, without parental hovering. But is it a "bad" thing for parents to build Lego houses with their kids?
Of course not. Perhaps the more relevant question is, should you as a parent feel obligated to build Lego houses? Would you rather be socializing with friends or catching up on household chores? Could American parents make things a little easier on themselves if they loosened the reigns and allowed themselves more "me" time?
To the last question, Druckerman would respond with an emphatic yes. How would you respond?
My two elementary-aged daughters sit at our kitchen counter munching apples and Ritz crackers. My kids aren’t with their peers at ballet, basketball, piano, art, karate, gymnastics, or swimming. They do take lessons occasionally, but I limit their activities to once a week. For JJ, it’s ballet and for Ani, it’s Lego engineering.
“Can we go outside now, mom?” Ani asks, already grabbing her coat and running out the door.
Our suburban backyard faces other backyards, separated by bike path and a small creek. During the school year, we can be outside for hours and not see or hear another child the entire time. My kids check the trampoline of our next-door neighbor just in case, hoping for a friend to play with.
"Mom, why can’t I have a play date?" Ani asks.
It’s hard to explain over and over.
"No one can play. All your friends are busy in activities and sports. Maybe during the next break."
My kids are each other’s best playmates thankfully.
I watch their legs pump on the swings out and back, out and back; listen to the giggles and screams; feel the warm Colorado sun on my face. Am I a crazy person, the only one in the universe, who thinks it’s better to play than to take so many lessons?
Doubts creep into my mind. No one else is doing it, Melissa, the doubts whisper. Your kids should be in activities. They’re missing out.
Richard Louv’s book title, The Last Child in the Woods, resonates with me today. I feel that we’re the last family in the woods, and it’s lonely.
Where is everybody?
Won’t someone come out and play?
Am I doing the right thing?
Playgrounds don’t improve themselves—they need love and care to thrive. If you’re lucky enough to have a playground within walking distance of your home, here are seven ways to ensure that it stays safe, well-maintained, and most importantly, played on by young and old alike. In honor of St. Valentine, let’s show your playground some love.
Are you sure new neighbors know where your playground is? Add photos to our Map of Play, and be sure to let folks know about its condition and the amentities it offers. If your playground is already on the map, you can help provide more information by adding your own comments and reviews.
Stretches of plain asphalt present valuable opportunities for play—just add paint! Markings for simple games, like hopscotch and foursquare, help incentivize children to engage in play and physical activity. Plus, they increase motor skills, create learning opportunities for conflict resolution, and maximize the potential of your playspace.
>> Get stencil sets and rules guides at peacefulplaygrounds.com
Many playgrounds offer no shaded areas, which discourages use in hotter months. Shade structures come in all shapes and sizes and can be added to existing equipment to provide some respite from the sun. You can also build shade structures over benches so that parents don’t burn up while supervising their children. And don’t forget about planting trees, which not only provide shade but also beauty, greenery, and potentially, new climbing opportunities for children!
Playgrounds aren’t just for little ones. A few simple additions to the area surrounding your playground—like planters, benches, chessboard tables, stages, and chalkboards—can transform it into a multi-use, multi-generational space, engaging kids, teens, and parents alike. With a bit of prep work, you can invite groups of volunteers to build these items, all of which can be completed in a single day.
>> Get step-by-step instructions for do-it-yourself side projects
Much like a neighborhood watch, a playground watch empowers citizens to protect their playgrounds and the families who use them. Put parents at ease and encourage more playground use by gathering a group of volunteers to rotate shifts on a playground watch. Not only does this ensure that a responsible supervisor is always at the playground, but it protects against vandalism and crime. Enlisting teens is a great way to encourage community involvement and a sense of investment in their local playground.
>> Learn more and download a sample recruitment flyer
Imagination Playground™ in a Box or Cart is a semi-mobile kit of parts to encourage unstructured, child-directed play. A set includes a storage unit on wheels and Imagination Playground™ Blocks—loose parts that allow children to constantly reconfigure their environment and to design their own course of play. Instead of, or in addition to, Imagination Playground™, you can create a “PlayPod” for found and donated items ranging from fabrics to safety cones to cardboard boxes.
Many playground maintenance issues go unreported simply because people don’t know who to call, or because it seems like too much work. Coordinate with the body in charge of your local playground to set up a reporting system so that the appropriate people can promptly notified about broken equipment, graffiti, or any other issues that may arise. It could be as simple as posting a prominent sign at the playground with a phone number.
>> Learn about San Francisco’s online reporting system