We are gathered here today to mourn the premature passing of Narelle Street tree house in North Bondi, Australia. For eight precious years, the tree house offered children their own leafy haven, refusing entrance to grown-ups “at any time.” On its well-worn wooden platform, children shared secrets, explored the natural world, and delegated responsibilities as kings and queens of the forest.
The Waverly Council deemed the Narelle Street tree house a danger to children, not because it had hurt anyone, but because it failed to meet “council standards.” Parents in the community heroically stepped up to rescue it from imminent demolition. Alas, their efforts were in vain. The tree house fell victim to the over-regulation and worst-first thinking that has plagued so many other play structures before it. It met its early demise in the name of children’s safety, and yet we must ask ourselves if its absence will only hurt children more.
Friends and fellow play advocates, please join us in paying tribute to the beloved Narelle Street Tree House as we grieve its premature passing.
Pay your respects at our other virtual funerals.
There's one surefire way to beautify your local playground: just add green. But put away your shovels and gardening gloves; get ready to fling some mud!
The "Batalla Verde," or "Green Battle," was originally staged by the Spanish design firm Urbanolismo in the town of Castell de Guadalest. Seeking an efficient, entertaining, and community-oriented way to plant its newly designed Mora Park Playground, the firm set 200 volunteers loose on huge containers full of seeds, clay, dirt, and water. The result? A massive mud fight that gave rise to a garden a few weeks later.
Has volunteering ever looked so FUN?!
See more photos on Urbanolismo. The firm is seeking a site for its next Green Battle. Any takers?
Special thanks to Playscapes for sharing this wonderful initiative!
We at KaBOOM! are on a mission to save play, but we can't do it alone. That's why we love grassroots advocates who work on the ground in their own communities to get more kids playing outdoors. Two such advocates—Wanda Cheeks of Southside Unity in the Community and Liza Sullivan, a participant in the KaBOOM! Park-a-Day Summer Challenge—shared their experiences with playmakers from around the nation at the Conference on the Value of Play in Clemson, S.C., hosted by the US Play Coalition.
The conference convened a diverse audience of educators, parks and recreation staff, healthcare professionals, researchers, parents, and playworkers to reflect upon the state of play in the United States, and to consider strategies for creating a stronger network of play advocates.
The combined experience of Wanda and Liza demonstrates the power and possibility of play advocacy. In nine years, Wanda transformed simple family outings to the park in Spartanburg, S.C., into an all-volunteer community development organization with over 60 active members that gathers children, youth, and adults to clean up parks, celebrate play and playspaces, organize community playground builds, and mentor schools and organizations in the community-build process.
In a single summer, Liza and her children successfully completed the KaBOOM! Park-a-Day Summer Challenge, visiting 50 community parks and playspaces in the Chicago area, and documenting those visits through blogs, photos, and contributions to the KaBOOM! Playspace Finder. Her visits and reflections on her children’s development draw attention to the cause of play and heighten community knowledge of local play resources—or their scarcity.
And the two playmakers’ advocacy continues! Wanda is currently in the process of making Southside Unity in the Community a non-profit and plans to host a block party in coming weeks. She’s also rallied Spartanburg to become a Playful City USA for four years and will certainly do the same in 2011.
Liza is busy authoring an article for an early childhood alliance newsletter on the Summer Challenge, organizing to form a Chicago-area Coalition for Plan, and making plans to spend her children’s final pre-kindergarten year engaged in the Challenge, exploring parks and playspaces and watching the growth and development that occurs.
Listen to Wanda and Liza talk about their work, and get inspired!
Winter blues got you down? New York's Openhouse Gallery recently brought a taste of spring to locals by creating its first "indoor pop up park." With artificial lawns, real trees, park benches, forest murals, SAD light boxes, and even a see-saw, the indoor park offered a temporary reprieve from snow-covered streets and bare tree branches.
Of course, we advocate for outdoor play rain or shine (or snow), but in the middle of a bleak winter this green, sun-dappled oasis seems hard to resist. It's time to go inside and play!
Photos courtesy of openhouseflickr.
Learn more on Openhouse Gallery's Facebook page.
"When is it too cold for schoolchildren to go outside for recess?" USA Today posed this question last month in its article, Too cold for recess? School policies vary as much as temps. Apparently, not everyone is in agreement. While a school in Asheville, N.C. keeps children inside if the temperature dips below 40, a school in International Falls, Minn. sends kids outside "no matter what," though conceding that "at 20 below, it gets iffy."
MaryAnn Schlegel Ruegger, an Indianapolis mother and attorney, has noticed a disturbing disparity when it comes to the wintertime recess policies of urban and suburban schools. She wrote a letter to the Indianapolis Star, which has not yet been published, but which came to our attention when she posted it as a comment to our recent blog post, Join the recess revolution!. MaryAnn makes such an articulate, thought-provoking case for re-examining our schools' recess policies, we couldn't let her letter stay buried in our blog comments. Read on:
A Different Kind of Education Gap
While the January 5 Indy Star article "New Winter Struggle: Coatless Kids in Shorts" elicited a lively online debate of the merits of choice versus control in parenting styles, there is a more pressing story about cold weather play for The Star to report. And that is that Indianapolis-area suburban children, like those in the story, are allowed and encouraged to play outside in the winter while their urban counterparts just miles away are prevented and discouraged from doing the same thing.
Winter recess policies differ greatly among area schools. Some local schools encourage children to enjoy fresh air and exercise throughout the winter months, while reminding parents to send appropriate warm clothing and to let them know if their children have health conditions that limit their exposure to cold weather. Children in these schools play and unwind in the brisk sunshine on most winter school days, ready to return with renewed focus to afternoon classroom learning. At the other extreme, elementary school children in one large urban school district are required to stay inside for recess on any day the temperature drops below 32 degrees. In central Indiana, when wind chill is included, this means most days between Thanksgiving and March.
Children in these schools play in overcrowded gymnasiums or remain in their classrooms for indoor recess. For some children, this works. For other children -- and in particular those who are most stressed by their home life, or who struggle with learning differences or difficulty in focus -- the lack of outdoor play undermines their efforts to listen and learn in the second half of the school day and during the crucial evening homework hours. When the school day ends, many of these children are also the most likely to go home to small apartments or busy city streets with few opportunities for safe outdoor play.
The reasons for this gap are many. Some parents still believe that cold weather play causes colds, even when children are dressed warmly, despite evidence to the contrary. School officials, frightened by the prospect of unfounded lawsuits, struggle to find the appropriate boundary between encouraging healthy exercise and protecting children in winter weather. Teachers worry about some children with inadequate winter clothing and protect them from cold or embarrassment by keeping entire classrooms of children inside.
Schools worry about injuries that may happen when children play in ice and snow, and compound the problem by letting small snowfalls build up until they can only be removed by days of melting temperatures. Schools worry about the time or cost of cleaning hallways when children come in after winter recess. And some adults, having never skied in January or enjoyed a brisk walk on the Monon in December to discover the joys of outdoor weather for themselves, tip the scales towards indoor recess whenever possible in order to escape the “duty” of standing outside in the weather themselves.
Many of these reasons are legitimate, but most can be overcome. Here are a few ways to start: health education for parents; donations of warm clothing and boots to children, schools or teachers that need them; reevaluation of risk management policies by schools to include the benefits of outdoor play; and additional mats for school hallways. A number of local schools encourage and support wintertime outdoor play, even within the center of the city. All schools need our support in this area. Wintertime outdoor play is a health issue, and local schools and parents have an obligation to do what is best for the children.
What can we do? It’s time to do for wintertime outdoor play what many local groups, like KIBI (Keep Indianapolis Beautiful) and Indy Parks, have done for the issue of outdoor learning generally. It’s time to make outdoor play an everyday experience for all area school children. Would you like to join me? Would you donate your gently used winter boots? Would you volunteer to help shovel or snowblow a school playground? What else might we do? Please let me know.
MaryAnn Schlegel Ruegger
Do you have ideas? We want to hear them! And how cold is too cold for recess at your child's school?
All children need access to a playground, but that doesn't mean play has to be confined to swings and slides. Play, by its very nature, is spontaneous -- it can happen nearly anywhere, with nearly anything, and under nearly any circumstances. After World War II, Danish landscape architect Theodore Sorensen observed children's delight over playing with rubble and scraps, an observation that led to the birth of Adventure Playgrounds.
We have covered some notable Adventure Playgrounds previously in this blog. While Europe boasts over a thousand, our risk-adverse society can only stomach four. However, a new kind of Adventure Playground has begun popping up, literally. In New York City, a team of play and child professionals, designers, artists and filmmakers are pioneering Pop-Up Adventure Playgrounds, in which children create their own worlds out of everyday items that are not normally considered "toys."
Just as play can erupt spontaneously, a Pop-Up Adventure Playground can pop up anywhere -- in a park, a front yard, a plaza, on a sidewalk... the possibilities are endless. The idea is simply to get kids playing outside with other kids, in an environment that flexes their creative muscles. The best part? A Pop-Up Adventure Playground doesn't have to cost a dime. While it may be difficult for adults to envision the play opportunities presented by, say, a stack of newspapers, children will inevitably turn them into hats, or curtains, or faux snowballs.
Take a look at these child-ruled kingdoms:
Much ado is made about mothers, the current controversy over "tiger moms" being a perfect case in point. But what about the dads? Mike Hall, Founder and President of Strong Father-Strong Families, contends that a strong fatherly presence is crucial to healthy child development. Not only that, playtime with dad has benefits that go far beyond mere entertainment. Here's Mike:
Play is perhaps the primary method of learning that children use to encounter the outside world in their early years. Research and observation has shown us that, because of their masculine nature, fathers interact with their children in more playful ways. They tend to encourage children to explore. From the time their children are very small, fathers want to do something with their child. The father-child interaction is exactly that—interactive. It is active, engaged involvement between two people.
Fathers tend to engage and activate a child through play even at young ages. As the child grows and the father gains caregiving competencies, play becomes a little rougher and more unpredictable. This rough-and-tumble play is not only a way for children and fathers to make deep personal connections, but it also teaches children about their own abilities and about what the child will someday be able to do. When children “win” or “conquer” the dad in physical play, they gain confidence. When children “lose” or “falter” against the old man, they can also develop the idea that, as capable as they are, they still need more skills and help.
Fathers need to balance the amount of success and frustration children must handle in any given “teachable moment.” These moments may include pulling themselves up on the couch, walking across the room, riding their bike solo for the first time, or even conquering quadratic formulas. Through play, fathers can better control the laboratory that helps children learn to deal with the frustration and anxiety that accompany true learning. While not the only way fathers engage their children, play interaction helps set expectations. A father who expects his child to be physically and emotionally resilient will allow a child to take certain risks and play in this rougher manner while also providing the guidance and support needed along the way.
In many of my educational workshops, I describe a scenario in which a child is running across the front yard and trips and skins his or her knee on the sidewalk. I ask the participants what would happen if only the mother were in the yard at the time. They respond that surely the mother would run (or sprint like the Six Million Dollar Man) to respond to and care for the child. I then describe to many folks who are nodding their heads that moms typically not only respond to the child but clean the wound, apply antibacterial spray and a cartoon character bandage, and then apply a kiss and an ice cream bar. Once all this is done, the child stops crying because he or she is comforted.
I then describe the same scenario with the same child skinning the same knee, but this time the father is in the yard. Participants inevitably respond that the father would respond by encouraging the child thus: “Get up! You're fine!” Because fathers expect their child will be a resilient adult, they expect that same child can and should be resilient right now! I reassure the workshop participants that fathers will attend to a child’s needs but may not necessarily use anti-bacterial ointment (unless you count WD-40) or a bandage (unless you count duct tape). Instead, fathers will many times use humor to diffuse the child’s anxiety and pain. Mothers would often think this is cruel, except for the fact that most children will respond to it if the father has already been engaged with the child.
The point is that children need to be nurtured and cared for by either the mother or father when they experience physical and emotional pain, and sometimes they need to be encouraged to endure it. Fathers are much more likely than mothers to help the child endure minor pains. For children to be resilient in an academic setting that can be painful both physically (remember dodgeball?) and emotionally (remember junior high?), the father needs to play with his child and view that play as an optimal teaching opportunity.
My experience as a middle school principal taught me that fathers who did not interact (through play or caregiving) with their child at an early age often did not have enough connection with their child to help them navigate math class, reading problems, lunchroom traumas, or most of the trials and tribulations that come with pre-adolescence and the teen years.
Too often, the child who has not been taught by the father through play does not know how to deal with adverse conditions that often accompany gaining an education in a building of 400 or 500 other children. And just as importantly, the father who has not played with his children will find himself at a loss when they face minor and major adversities.
Mike Hall has been a special education teacher, a teacher of the gifted and talented, and an intermediate and middle school principal. After realizing that he was spending more time raising other people's children than his own, he left the principalship and became an advocate for stronger parent and father involvement in public education.
Join Mike Hall on Tuesday, Feb. 15 for a free online workshop on The Value of Dad's Play. Register now!
Almost one year ago, on February 9th, First Lady Michelle Obama launched "Let's Move" a national call to action to end childhood obesity in one generation. Our CEO Darell Hammond plus other non-profit leaders, braved one of the worst snowstorms Washington D.C. has ever seen to get to the White House for the launch. Since then, the First Lady and Let’s Move have transformed attitudes about our children’s health. Today, KaBOOM! will be on a conference call with Mrs. Obama and other leaders and will highlight the incredible efforts taking place in communities across the country to improve physical activity in children’s daily lives. Darell will also discuss the Play Deficit and how citizens everywhere can take action to bring play back to our children’s lives.
Over the past year:
So, happy birthday Let’s Move, and a huge and hearty thank you to the millions of KaBOOM! fans who helped the nation get a "move" on. We could never have done it without you.
Last month, Amy Chua precipitated a raging controversy over the "tiger mom" approach to parenting when her article, entitled "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior" appeared in the Wall Street Journal. The article posed the question, "Can a regimen of no playdates, no TV, no computer games and hours of music practice create happy kids?"
We would be inclined to say "no" to this question, but as our CEO Darell Hammond points out in his most recent Huffington Post blog, Western parents may very well benefit from taking a page from Ms. Chua's book. He says:
As someone who advocates for unstructured, creative, child-directed play, I would expect to roundly denounce a mother whose strict regimen left her children little, if any time, for free play. Clearly, we have some differences of opinion. But that said, in an age of helicopter parents and bubble-wrapped kids, I find some aspects of the tiger mom approach refreshing.
And yet, here's one shortfall that tiger moms and helicopter moms share:
Both have a tendency to constantly hover and continually micro-manage their children's lives. The motives may be different -- a tiger mom hovers to push her kids to excel, while a helicopter mom hovers to protect them from all the world's dangers.
Read the full post here.
“WE DID IT!!!” Leaders of the MJ Lundy Elementary School playground project were able to make this proclamation on January 29, after a playground that had been months in the making was built over the course of a single day.
Said Amy Bourne, the local school PTA Treasurer, at the beginning of the project, “The students of M.J. Lundy Elementary will soon be moving into a new school… However, the school is being built without a playground structure for the students in grades 2 - 5. These children are too young to not have a playground. Other than playing on the blacktop and an empty soccer field, there will be nothing to do.”
Parents at Lundy Elementary decided to take matters into their own hands. They started by registering their project on kaboom.org and creating a one-minute video to enter into our Promote Your Project Video Contest. Their entry was selected as one of 10 finalists:
After successfully fundraising over $45,000, the Lundy PTA took our community-based model to heart and recruited over 200 volunteers to help build the playground. Now, over 600 students will have a place to play during recess and after school.
The project, which was featured in the EL Paso Times and on a local news channel, speaks to the power of what a community can accomplish when they are motivated, organized, and tenacious.
See photos from the build day:
Please join us in congratulating MJ Lundy Elementary on a job well done! Learn more about the project and find out how to start your own on projects.kaboom.org.