Unstructured play - KaBOOM! News

Free range children signAre you ready to take your children to the park… and leave them there? That’s what Lenore Skenazy, blogger and author of Free-Range Kids, wants parents to do on May 18, which she has aptly named, “Take Our Children to the Park… and Leave Them There Day.”

Lenore doesn’t want to get rid of her kids. She is not an advocate for child neglect. She is simply talking about giving children, age 7 or 8 and up, a chance to play with other kids by themselves at the park for an hour or two. In her words:

Clearly we are in the middle of a vicious cycle—there are no kids outside so I won’t let MY kids outside, so there are no kids outside, so you don’t let YOUR kids outside, so I don’t let MY kids outside, etc., etc., etc—which is why the holiday (or whatever it is) is even necessary. It is a day to break the cycle. A day to get kids outside to meet each other and re-learn the lost art of playing!

Here's what the lost art of playing means to Lenore:

Stand around, get bored, wonder what to do, wish there was an Xbox around, feel hungry, feel a little too hot or cold, feel mad at mom for not organizing something "really" fun, like a trip to Chuck E. Cheese, feel bad all around, realize the other kids are feeling bad too, and then—in desperation—do something.

Start a game of tag. Or basketball. Or fairies versus witches. And suddenly, those bored kids who were desperate to go home don't want to go home at all. They want to KEEP playing— with any luck, for the rest of their childhoods.

So why are no parents allowed? For years, Lenore has been on a mission to prove that the world is not as dangerous a place as many parents are led to believe it is (crime rates are actually back down to where they were in the early 70s). Without granting our kids the freedom to... well, be kids, we are depriving them of vital chances to develop life skills. For instance, learning how turn boredom into opportunity and becoming self-sufficient.

May 18 is tomorrow. Will you be taking your children to the park… and leaving them there?

Learn more about the day here.

Each summer, parents dole out hefty amounts of cash to keep their children entertained. Yet the wildly popular recent video about Caine's Arcade -- which chronicled the creation of a cardboard arcade built by a bored boy who had to tag along with his dad to work last summer -- proved that not only can a bit of boredom fuel ingenuity and creativity, but also that kids don't need a whole lot to occupy themselves. 

This summer, try giving your wallet a break and your kids a cardboard box. Even better, give them a dozen boxes so they can build their very own pop-up playground! Get inspired by some of our favorite photos of cardboard box play from around the web:


Mom says, "Go outside and play." Kids go outside and play. It used to be that simple. But for a number of reasons, few parents these days feel comfortable letting their children roam the neighborhood without keeping a watchful eye. 

Danielle Smith, a blogger on strollerderby, asks in the video at right, "Do you let your kids play outside alone?" Though she admits it's unlikely, she worries about her kids getting abducted by a stranger and simply can't bear the thought of anything happening to them on her watch.

Many parents are equally reluctuctant to send their kids outside unsupervised -- so many, in fact, that our neighborhood streets are now eerily quiet, void of the shouts and screams of playing children. And that's precisely the problem. In the "good old days," kids weren't playing "alone." They were playing with all the other neighborhood kids. 

After all, playing alone is boring. And more dangerous. In the extremeley unlikely event that a child abductor were to be perusing your neighborhood, he or she would be far more likely to prey on your children if they were alone.

We strongly believe that children need time for free, unstructured, unsupervised play -- but they also need other children to play with. So the question of letting kids play unsupervised is one we need to pose not only to individual parents, but also at the neighborhood level.

Of course, getting a whole neighborhood on board with unsupervised outdoor play is no easy task. (You can read about one father's worthy efforts here.) But since April is officially "Get Outside Month," there's no better time to start.

>> See our "Get Outside" board on Pinterest for ideas and inspiration.

Does your neighborhood look like this?

Photo from PlayingOut.net, an organization dedicated to activating street play in your neighborhood.

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!

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?

One of the largest challenges we face in our fight to save play is debunking the myth that play is a "luxury." That's why we were delighted to come across this articulate letter to the editor in response to a new policy implemented at a Wisconsin elementary school. Both before school and during recess, students must now walk for 10 minutes in a single file line.

Clearly, we love to see children moving around outside, but not at the expense of creative, unstructured play. Walking in a single file line does nothing to exercise the imagination, nor does it promote the development of vital skills like curiosity, resiliency, social integration, and the ability to assess risk.

Concerned parent Heidi Faris insists:

"Recess is a right for all children, not a privilege. According to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, article 31 recognizes 'The right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.'

Play is a need for child development, not a want. It would be the same as depriving them from eating lunch (Young Children, 2009.)

Parents, teachers and principals, I encourage you to stand up for your children. Give kids back the right that they deserve."

Well said, Heidi! Read her full letter here.

Join us to defend our children’s right to play by signing our Back-to-School Pledge!

When you sign, we'll get you started with a PDF copy of How to Save Play at Your School—featuring 15 action ideas for teachers and parents to make school grounds and school days more playful.


There’s a new children’s book slated for release in September, and it’s aimed at children—presumably overweight girls—ages 6 to 12. According to the Barnes and Noble website, Maggie Goes on a Diet is about "a 14 year old girl who goes on a diet and is transformed from being extremely overweight and insecure to a normal sized girl who becomes the school soccer star."


Young girls shouldn't be worrying about diets any more than they should be worrying about mortgage payments. Girls and boys alike should be worrying about evading hot lava monsters and making it across the monkey bars. Then, cheeks flushed after a healthy dose of outdoor play, they should come inside to enjoy nutritious meals provided to them by their schools and families.

Instead, all too many children are lounging indoors fiddling with electronic gizmos and suffering from unhealthy eating options at their schools, in their homes, and in their communities. Then we tell them to go on diets.

As the childhood obesity epidemic grows, we seem to be turning to adult solutions. If it’s not dieting, it’s organized sports. While potentially a valuable experience for children, in our frenzy to give kids a "workout," organized sports are only becoming more demanding and more extreme. According to the Pikes Peak Courier View, "As many as half of all youth sports injuries are the result of overuse due to an adult-driven regimen of sports play and training so intense that a child’s body rebels."

Meanwhile, as Dr. John DiFiori, chief of sports medicine at UCLA, points out, "Children entertaining themselves at their own pace, in their own way, simply do not play sports until it hurts."

What it comes down to is this: If you give kids the space and time, they want to run around and play. If you give kids healthy food, they will eat it, even if they grumble about the greens. Placing our adult concerns and expectations on the shoulders of kids won’t solve childhood obesity—and if anything, it will only groom our younger generations to turn into neurotic, overworked adults.

Good for Maggie that she lost those extra pounds, but let’s shelve the book and send our 6- to 12-year-old girls outside to play.

Summer is rife with learning opportunities. It's a time to hunt for insects, master handstands, practice swimming strokes, conquer trees, explore nooks and crannies, and make new friends. In short, summer is a time for unstructured play, bringing with it all the rich developmental benefits that make play such a vital part of our children's lives.

But how many children actually experience this kind of summer? For how many children, does summer mean this instead?

Alas, the "summer slide" is not a ridiculously fun piece of playground equipment, but rather a term used to describe the learning loss that can take place over the summer if kids don't have access to brain-stimulating activities. And as TIME points out, the "summer slide" disproportionately affects lower-income children, whose parents lack the resources to send them to camp or to take them on family vacations.

For us, the question is less about whether or not we should "abolish" summer vacation and more about how we can ensure that all children have access to learning-rich free play opportunities when not in school. Slashing funding for community pools and city-sponsored summer camps -- as city officials are doing across the country, according to The Wall Street Journal  -- is not a good first step.

Or, the question can be reversed: If we decide that year-round school is the best way to go, how can we ensure that all children have access to learning-rich free play opportunities during school hours? (Hint: Reducing or eliminating recess is not a good first step.)

What do you think? Will your children benefit from summer vacation?


Related reading:


Darell Hammond, CEO of KaBOOM!Our children are spending too much time racing around and not enough time playing around. In his latest Huffington Post piece, our CEO Darell Hammond reacts to the premise of the recently released documentary Race to Nowhere -- namely, that the premature pressures and rigorous schedules we're imposing on children's lives are interfering with their health and happiness, not to mention their social, emotional, and cognitive development. 

The solution doesn't just lie in reevaluating our approach to education, but also our approach to parenting. We need to give our children time to be bored -- away from screens, away from classrooms, away from soccer drills. Only then will their creativity flourish. As Darell puts it:

"According to the Institute for Social Research, between 1981 and 1997 kids lost 12 hours of weekly free time while time spent in structured sports doubled. Time spent on homework increased by 50 percent. And young people's daily screen time now hovers around 7.5 hours per day.

Adults are cramming as much as they can into their children's days under the misguided notion that boredom is a bad thing. Then, in the precious hours of free time they have, kids turn to TV, computers, and video games to keep themselves entertained. The result? A generation of kids who are adept at following rules--whether in a classroom, on the soccer field, or on their PlayStation--but who are at a complete loss when it comes to innovating, designing, tinkering, or doing anything that requires drawing from their own imaginations.

No wonder research indicates that we're in the midst of a 'creativity crisis.'"

Read the full article and watch a trailer for Race to Nowhere on the Huffington Post.

A concerned parent recently emailed KaBOOM! to express her utter shock upon discovering that her son's new school has no recess. And sadly, it's not the only one. Parents across the country are learning that their children's recess periods have either been drastically scaled back or slashed altogether.

While some administrators seem to think that it's acceptable to deprive students of the only time they have during the school day to engage in unstructured free play, parents are up in arms. They intuitively sense of the importance of giving their kids a break and are stunned that school officials seem to lack such common sense.

In his recent Huffington Post piece, Don't Let Recess Die! Six Ways to Save Recess at Your Child's School, our CEO Darell Hammond asserts:

Increased emphasis on high-stakes testing is often to blame, despite overwhelming evidence that more physical activity actually increases focus inside the classroom and can lead to higher test scores. The fact is, a school day with no play isn't going to make your child smarter, and not only that, it's dangerous to your child's health.

He provides tools and resources that concerned parents can use to lengthen or reinstate their child's recess period. If you are one of these parents, don't just wring your hands. It's time to take action!

Other Huffington Post pieces by Darell Hammond: