KaBOOM! News • page 13

February 09, 2012 Kerala Taylor

We all need to listen to this 5th-grader

This 5th-grader from Cache la Poudre Elementary School in La Porte, Colo. thinks that his recess teachers need to "loosen up." Why? According to him, their safety concerns are not only making it hard to stay active, but also to have any fun. 

In his words:

Exercise is really important and that is why I think the recess teachers should loosen up. We kids are just trying to have fun. Every day, it is a struggle to find what to do at recess, and then the next day, the fun is taken away.

For example, recently I was playing with a jump rope. I come out to school recess the next day and they are already gone. I want to complain to the recess teachers, but that will just get them mad at us all. I know they are just trying to keep us safe, but sometimes I think it is going over the line. Normally, teachers say school shouldn't be boring and it should be for learning and part of learning is being active. But these teachers are making it extra hard to do this.

See Wynter Brown's full letter here.

If you received this letter from Wynter, how would you respond?

February 08, 2012 Kerala Taylor

Your favorite dangerous playtime activities

Would you let your kid climb a tree? What about jump off a roof?

Over the weekend, in light of our recent conversation about risk aversion, we asked our Twitter followers and Facebook fans about their favorite “dangerous” playtime activities growing up. There was a lot of gleeful jumping, climbing, and (almost) falling involved. Here's just a sampling:

We didn't just hang upside down on the monkey bars, we used to play "tag" and run across them like it was nothing. I don't think I could even step on one of them today - amazing how fearless children are!
- Stacy Towers via Facebook

Jumping roofs! Dangerous but fun. We jumped from house to house. In LA, they are built very close.
- @1AKA_VS via Twitter

Jumping off the roof of a ranch house garage into a pile of leaves.
- Eva Spera-Gauthier via Facebook

Um... climbing high into trees and jumping down... (we thought we could fly!). 
- @hipmamasociety via Twitter

Falling out of trees. Luckily I was a bouncy kid.
- @WayfarerGlyn via Twitter

Riding my brother's bike down the hill. It was too big for me. I couldn't reach the pedals. I had to get off by riding onto the grass and going in a slow circle until it fell down.
- Deb Rennie via Facebook

Walking the rail on the railroad tracks. Who knew we were developing and training balance. We were having FUN!
- Youth Fitness Guy via Facebook

Running the gauntlet through the swings that my friends were swinging on. The best part of it was *almost* getting kicked, narrowly escaping!
- Kasia Swatek Kramer via Facebook

Playing with fire.
- @helainebecker via Twitter

Biking down the long, steep hill in front of my house (age 6), no hands, no feet, no helmet and screaming my head off in glee.
- Move with Me Action Adventures via Facebook

What was your favorite "dangerous" playtime activity growing up?

Photo by Mitchio (cc).

February 07, 2012 Jaime Greenberg

Where are all the kids?

In November KaBOOM! launched its first guest blogging contest, asking parents to muse about their experiences with play. We received lots of entries, and while it was tough, managed to narrow it down. Over the past ten weeks we've been publishing the top ten, and we hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did! Congratulations to all of our winners. In 1st place is Jaime Greenberg from Boca Raton, Florida…


When my husband and I found our new neighborhood, it was love at first sight. It was exactly what we’d been looking for: family-friendly and filled with more at-your-fingertips nature and open play spaces than we typically see here in south Florida, where zero lot line, heavily-landscaped communities are the norm.  

Our neighborhood has a total of five—count them five!—parks. Four are open spaces, intersected by sidewalk trails. The fifth holds a sand-filled playground—with monkey bars, slides, tunnels and the most incredible swings.

My daughters and I spend a lot of time at the playground park. One evening just at sunset, as we were swinging together, my 7-year-old turned to me and said, “Mommy, where are all the other kids?”

That’s a good question. Despite ubiquitous “Caution children at play” signs sprinkled throughout our neighborhood, we very rarely see any children playing outside.

One day, though, it was different.

A couple of months ago, an unexpected flash flood filled our low-lying parks with water, turning them into ponds in a matter of minutes. The transformation was magical.

I rushed my daughters out the door with me to check it out. At our favorite park (now pond) spiders swam for their lives and wood ducks glided across the sidewalk that used to be our scooter trail.

It took a few minutes, but soon I heard it all around me: the unmistakable, joyful sound of children playing. Slowly, kids of all ages were streaming from their houses to check out this new world.

We saw a group of teenagers floating across a submerged valley on a paddleboard. On the other side, boys were riding their bicycles into the water, daring each other to go farther. One boy glided in pedal-deep before giving up and turning around.

My daughters and I crossed the street and waded into calf-high water. The seams of the sidewalk bubbled and percolated like a fish tank, “Something’s breathing in there!” my 4-year-old said, her eyes wide with wonder.

It seemed like everyone was full of wonder that day. But soon enough the floodwaters receded. The ponds turned back into parks again and all the kids went home. The spell was broken. Sadly, I haven’t seen that many kids just playing outside in my neighborhood since.

We have amazing play spaces in my community, but it literally took an act of nature to get kids outside. It’s enough to make a parent ask: what kind of magic would it take to keep that playfulness alive on a daily basis?

But, really, it has nothing to do with magic. It has to do with us: the whole community of adults in our children’s lives.

Maybe this is the best way to tackle the play deficit: at its root. When we adults remember play--the wonder and magic in everyday experiences--maybe we'll realize what’s being denied to our children, and we'll be outraged enough to shake things up and finally, for real, do something about it.

February 03, 2012 KaBOOM!

Encouraging risk in a risk-averse world

This story originally appeared in the Altruim Institute’s Health Policy Forum and has been adapted for kaboom.org.

Ever since the arrival of my daughter, my ears have been primed to pick up on the conversations and behaviors other parents are modeling for their children. Lately, it feels like more and more of these conversations are geared toward coaxing children away from taking risks. There are the well-known fears to which many a parent can speak to: gangs, drugs, perilous streets, and so forth. Yet, it seems as if we are moving in the direction of proclaiming things fearful that past generations simply considered a part of growing up. Riding a bike to school, swinging to soaring heights only to jump off, and even roaming the neighborhood with a group of friends have been traded for the “safety” of our children.

Earlier this month I came across a blog titled “An Itemized Tour of the Most Terrifying Playground in the World. EVERYBODY PANIC!!!”. The author takes readers through a point-by-point list of, as she states, “the stressful aspects of this park that brought out the neurotic parent in me.” While sympathetic I was mostly troubled by this post.

In addition to the playground elements that cause “stress” in parents, there is an underlying fear that our children will be hurt, abducted, or meet some other undesirable fate while on the playground. As an advocate for playgrounds and outdoor play in general, it is alarming to see the number of people who agree that playspaces should be made less risky. Nobody wants anybody’s child to get hurt, but if we are always there to catch our children before they fall, they will never learn to brace themselves for the impact. This is as true for the tumbles they will take on the playground, as it is for the ones that await them as adults.

The media has contributed significantly to the cultural shift in our perception of risk. As a colleague so aptly says, “It is difficult enough being a parent, you are literally responsible for someone else’s life. When you couple that responsibility with the fear created by the media, it is easy to see why more parents are becoming risk-averse.”

There has also been a shift toward increased structured enrichment activities for children. We are living in a society where we feel as if we are doing wrong by our children if we don’t fill every opportunity with a “life-enhancing experience.”

These activities often come with predefined rules and expected outcomes that further limit children’s ability to take risks. It is in our attempts to protect and raise children ready to tackle the 21st century that we have inadvertently taken away one of the best learning opportunities: space for children to challenge themselves, take risks, and acquire vital problem-solving skills. The need for constant protection of our children speaks to our society’s inability to simply let our children fail at anything, no matter how trivial.

It is inevitable that children will encounter obstacles in life. It is through risk taking that children develop the capacity to think creatively and develop solutions. Those obstacles and risks begin on the playground.

February 02, 2012 KaBOOM!

Help make Pawnee playful

Urge NBC’s fictional town of Pawnee to become a Playful City USA!

You may remember the NBC episode of Parks and Recreation that featured KaBOOM!. We’ve been following the show closely ever since and are thrilled that fictional City Council candidate Leslie Knope thinks there should be a playground in every park, school yard and residential block.

We also think her make-believe town of Pawnee should become a Playful City USA. Join KaBOOM! in calling for Leslie Knope to add making Pawnee a Playful City USA to the issues she’s campaigning for. Visit the Parks and Recreation Facebook page and post the following message to its wall:

“Leslie Knope has my vote if she pledges to make Pawnee a KaBOOM! Playful City USA.”

We love Imagination Playground™. Whether in a cart or in a box, we love how Imagination Playground™ helps children enjoy self-directed, unstructured, and creative play.

You can imagine how delighted we were to receive a large pile of pictures from a recent Imagination Playground™ unveiling at York Academy in Playful City USA community of York, Pennsylvania.

Look at the photos below and you’ll see the limitless possibilities of Imagination Playground™ and just how much fun playing with it can be! All photos taken by Seth Nenstiel.

Imagination Playground in York, PA

January 31, 2012 Fezeka Saige

Let's play, South African style!

In November KaBOOM! launched its first guest blogging contest, asking parents to muse about their experiences with play. We received lots of entries, and while it was tough, managed to narrow it down. Over the next ten weeks we will be publishing the top ten, and we hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did! Congratulations to all of our winners. In 2nd place is Fezeka Saige from Roswell, Georgia…

I recently went back to South Africa with my six-year-old triplets. I was looking forward to spending time with my family and the relief of not being scheduled. The rural setting that I had cursed whenever my parents took me for Christmas break is littered with mud huts set on green rolling hills but without modern amenities. While the break from technology was appealing to me as an adult, I agonized and worried over how my American children would fare. How would they adjust without TV, computers and electricity?

Turns out I had nothing to worry about.

My kids played in the dirt with a tennis ball fashioned out of old newspapers and plastic bags. They used their creativity to turn sticks, stones and anything that they found into bats, balls, sling shots and any game they could think of. I watched as the group of friends that my shy kids amassed grew and grew until there were enough kids to play a heated game of soccer. I only saw the kids when they were hungry or when it was time for bed. As we boarded the plane and headed home for the beginning of the school year, I wondered how much play they would have in their school day.

While they are at school, recess is the only time for unstructured play. Since recess is now only 15 minutes a day, I thought surely it is a must. We wouldn’t intentionally ignore the well-documented benefits to learning, social development and health, that even a 15 minute recess can provide. Realizing the significance of play, I started making it a habit to ask everyday if my children had recess.

I was shocked at the answers.

It turns out that sometimes the class takes too long with a lesson or other activity so recess gets cut. Or it rained three days ago and the equipment might still be wet, so recess is eliminated. Or some kids were talking at lunch so as punishment the whole class stays indoors. Added to that, my six-year-old daughter was coming home with enough homework to last an hour. How could I expect a 6-year old who had not played outside all day to sit for an hour at home doing homework?

The decline in play is staggering. According to the National Center for Education kids have lost about 12 hours per week in free time since 1970 and there has been a 50% decline in unstructured outdoor play. But I didn’t need to see the statistics to know that my kids were not getting what they needed.

To make what I considered an essential difference, I decided to place myself in settings where I could let kids play. I coach two soccer teams, I co-lead a girl scout troop and teach Sunday school. In all these environments I see children unable to sit still and pay attention. My reaction: let’s get up and move around! Why is it abnormal for 6-year olds to want to be active? Why is the kid who needs to stand up every ten minutes seen as odd? The biggest compliment I have yet received was when a parent who was volunteering at our girls scout meeting said, “You really just let the kids be kids.” Who would want it any other way?

January 24, 2012 Angie Six

Relax... It's okay to get a little dirty!

In November KaBOOM! launched its first guest blogging contest, asking parents to muse about their experiences with play. We received lots of entries, and while it was tough, managed to narrow it down. Over the next ten weeks we will be publishing the top ten, and we hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did! Congratulations to all of our winners. In 3rd place is Angie Six from Indianapolis, Indiana…

"No climbing!"

"You'll get dirty!"

"Get down before you hurt yourself!"

Years ago, these were the things a kid would hear when they were getting too rambunctious for indoor play. My mother put up with a lot inside the house, but when we started climbing the walls she had the good sense to send us outside.

The rules for outside play were simple: stay close enough that we could hear our mothers yell, don't do anything that might get you killed. Given that kind of freedom, we spent hours playing outside and doing things that involved climbing, all kinds of mess, and a few injuries.

Fast-forward to the play time of today and you'll find rules aplenty. I don't have the same surroundings to send my children off on their own, so when they need to burn off energy we visit local playgrounds. My rules are nearly as simple as my mother's: stay near, be nice, and don't do anything that might get you killed. It's everyone else's rules that are killing the fun for today's kids.

The ravine my kids gravitate to because it's swampy and fun? The other kids get scolded for joining in. "You'll get dirty," the parents say. "We came here to play on the playground, not in the dirt." The sticks my kids use to build shelters? "Put that down! You'll put an eye out!" It's the looks I get when I let my kids climb a tree or stand on top of the monkey bars that's sharp enough to put an eye out.

I never imagined I'd be that mom, the one who the others judge for being too lax. I'm strict about sweets, I'm cranky about what they can and can't watch on TV. Compared to my own childhood, my children are far more micro-managed in every aspect of their day.

That's why it's so important to me to leave them be outside. Yes, they get dirty. Yes, I see them climbing and think about insurance deductibles. That's my job. It's also my job to step back and let them play. Dirty clothes can be washed. Balance and good judgement can only be learned by testing boundaries and, yes, sometimes falling.

It's hard not to feel self-conscious and turn into a helicopter parent. I resist, though, in hopes that there will be another parent there, watching. Perhaps their gut tells them the same as mine - that children need this, that kids inherently know what's okay and what they're capable of. Maybe they have just a smidgen less confidence than I do after nine years of parenting. Watching me give my kids freedom to play without the weight of so many rules may be just the thing they need to see so they'll feel okay with a less involvement.

If you see us on the playground, join us. We'll be up in the trees or in the mud. We'll be having fun - the only rule that really matters on the playground.

Do you know someone who's been working hard to get the children in their community up and active? If so, the President's Council, the White House Office of Public Engagement and the First Lady's Let's Move! initiative would like to hear about them!

Last year, the White House Champions of Change program hosted an event to highlight the work of chefs who have been improving school nutrition programs. For 2012 they are looking for nominations of individuals and organizations that are "increasing access to physical activity for children and young adults."

We are seeking adult champions (18 and over) who are working to increase access to physical activity for kids through some/all of the following:

  • Organized or competitive activities for teams and/or individuals, including youth with disabilities;
  • Unstructured play;
  • School-based activities, including physical education, recess and activity breaks;
  • Outdoor activities that promote time in nature;
  • Afterschool or summer programs.

Nominations must be submitted by midnight on January 23, 2012.

You can learn more about the program and fill out the form here!

January 17, 2012 Victoria Green

I call it tiny. My kids call it nature.

In November KaBOOM! launched its first guest blogging contest, asking parents to muse about their experiences with play. We received lots of entries, and while it was tough, managed to narrow it down. Over the next ten weeks we will be publishing the top ten, and we hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did! Congratulations to all of our winners. In 4th place is Victoria Green from Boca Raton, Florida…

You know that stereotypical childhood spent outdoors that parents these days wish their children could have? The one with kids roaming free through the neighborhood, digging in the dirt, climbing trees and playing outside until after dark in the summer? Yep, I had that, growing up in Rhode Island in the 70s and 80s.

Now I have two boys, ages 5 and 2, and we live in a townhouse in south Florida. Many of the things I experienced as a child aren’t available here: big backyards, friendly neighborhood moms who invite you in for a drink of water, the ability to walk home from school. My friends and I spent some time bemoaning those differences, until I realized: my kids don’t know what they’re missing.

We do have a yard. Ok, yes, it’s tiny. But so what? My kids are tiny. The yard has grass and bushes and rocks and bugs and lizards and sea shells. Nature! And we have a long driveway which we share with our neighbors that also has some bushes and trees. Perfect for riding trikes and bikes, drawing with chalk, blowing bubbles and squirting one another with the hose. Our neighborhood abuts the Intracoastal Waterway. Just a short walk down the road and we can play on a sandy beach, see pelicans flying overhead and watch fish jumping. We can check to see if the tide is high or low, and whether any treasures have washed up on our shore.

One day last week, after a rain shower, my kids and I went out into our driveway to play. The boys immediately started splashing in a puddle. My older son got a bucket and made some mud, which he smeared onto a tree. After a while, he pulled some leaves off a bush and plastered those into the mud: a messy, oozy poultice.

While we were out, our neighbor directly across the driveway came home with her two girls, ages 5 and 7. They looked longingly at my muddy, wet boys and asked if they could play outside, too. Their mom looked aghast and hustled them inside immediately.

Sometimes, the opportunity for play is there, but you just have to look a bit harder to find it.