Opinion Editorials (Op-Eds) are printed “opposite the editorial page” and are written by community leaders and syndicated columnists, not staff writers. Op-ed pieces express an opinion on an issue of import to you, and can offer an excellent opportunity for you to advance the message of why play matters. They are not responses to articles in the paper but are original pieces on an important issue. Usually, they need to be pitched to a newspaper's editorial board before they are accepted.
Danger: Playground Ahead
By ALLISON ARIEFF
New York Times
Published: May 29, 2007
American playgrounds often seem anything but playful. Their equipment is designed not so much to let children have fun as to make sure they don’t hurt themselves. Sure, a simple sandbox and climbing gym are enough to mesmerize toddlers. But what’s to lure older children? No wonder children aged 8 to 12 — the “tweens” — have abandoned playgrounds en masse for instant messaging.
Playgrounds were originally conceived as places to raise future citizens in a social democracy, according to Roy Kozlovsky, an architectural historian, but now they seem geared more toward facilitating easy parental supervision. Well-meaning efforts to reduce the risk of injury have overwhelmed opportunities for self-expression and creativity. The idea of a playground as what Mr. Kozlovsky calls a “pure place” persists, but increasingly, it is also an empty place.
Hope may be on the horizon. We seem to be witnessing, if not a tipping point, then a seesaw tilt in playground design. The slide-swing set-sandbox-seesaw-repeat model is giving way, in some places, to approaches like slickly engineered skateparks, portable performance spaces, and do-it-yourself activity centers. Instead of fostering the repetitive motor skills that are essential milestones for a toddler but mind-numbingly dull for a 9- or 10-year-old, these new spaces seek to stimulate the imagination (and the metabolism) by encouraging exploration and free play.
In New York City, for example, the Rockwell Group recently designed an Imagination Playground, which includes the unappealingly named but engaging concept of “loose parts,” a selection of blocks, buckets, shovels, and the like that lets youngsters build something, tear it down, and start all over again — so that each visit is a new experience. This borrows from the “adventure playground” idea envisioned back in 1931 by C. Th. Sorensen, a Danish landscape architect, after he observed that children preferred to play everywhere but in the playgrounds he had built. (There are about a thousand adventure playgrounds in Europe but only two in the United States.)
Re-imagining a staple of conventional playground equipment, Carsten Höller, a conceptual artist, recently created a cluster of adrenalin-inducing slides, above right, at the Tate Modern museum in London. The work is meant, Mr. Höller has said, to instill in visitors “an emotional state that is a unique condition somewhere between delight and madness.” That sounds just about right for a child on a playground.
Can playgrounds adapt to the expectations of our increasingly sophisticated and technologically savvy youth? “The playground used to be a monument, like a major public building,” said Mr. Kozlovsky. “Perhaps in the 21st century, it needs to be updated every two years or so like a PlayStation.”With summer about to begin, I asked four people — artists, architects and designers — to imagine playgrounds that could attract the modern adolescent.
Allison Arieff, the former editor in chief of Dwell magazine and a columnist for TimesSelect, is a consultant for a design firm.
You can hardly turn on the news anymore without hearing about another problem facing our kids. Study after study shows something is desperately wrong with how children are growing up today. But research shows that an increase in play opportunities for children could help solve critical problems facing our children such as childhood obesity, youth crime and underachievement in school. However if we do not choose to take action today, the continued decline in play opportunities will exacerbate these problems.
Right now, 15 percent of all children and almost a quarter of black and Latino children are overweight. The average kindergarten student has watched more than 5,000 hours of TV by the age of five. Seventy-eight percent of children say they are “stressed” sometimes or often. Children spend 50 percent more time studying than they did 20 years ago.
For many of these challenges, the solution is as old-fashioned as chicken soup for a cold. Our kids need to be kids. Our kids need more time and space to play – in an unstructured, spontaneous, self-motivated way. Not another soccer drill or adult-organized activity. Not more technology, but less. Rarely is the answer so simple, or so fun.
Most of the best times in childhood are spent in play. Digging a hole to China. Building a fort out of tree limbs and sheets. Teeter-tottering, swinging and sliding on the neighborhood playground. Sledding on a cardboard box. Putting a shirt and tie on the family dog. Spinning around for no particular reason.
As carefree and frivolous as play may sound, play is serious business when it comes to children’s physical, academic and social development. In one study, fourth graders were more focused on their tasks and less fidgety in the classroom on the days when they had recess. Active, rough-and-tumble play has been shown to help children develop motor skills, and the exercise it provides prevents obesity and other health risks related to inactivity. And playtime is essential for learning the social skills children need as adults: sharing, cooperating, resolving conflicts without adult intervention, and dealing with emotions like anger and being upset.
What’s stopping kids from playing, something that should come so naturally? In a recent Harris Interactive poll of pediatricians, almost all (97 percent) said time in front of a computer or television contributed to the decline of unstructured play. Other reasons included the rise in organized sports and activities (75 percent); lack of quality playspaces within walking distance of children’s homes (50 percent); and reduction in school recess time (44 percent). The good news is that removing the barriers to play is entirely within a community’s control.
President Theodore Roosevelt said it best almost 100 years ago: “Since play is a fundamental need, playgrounds should be provided for every child as much as schools. This means that they must be distributed over the cities in such a way as to be within walking distance of every boy and girl...” In addition, in 1989, the United Nations declared the rights of the child to include: “The child shall have full opportunity for play and recreation...”.
Today is the day to take a stand for all our children across North America. Today is the day to bring play back into the lives of our youth. Collectively, we can create a playful nation where all children have the opportunity to play within walking distance of their homes and schools.
This is one of the most frequently read sections of the newspaper. Furthermore, the op-ed page is read by those to whom you want to reach out the most—community members, business leaders, elected officials, and policymakers.
Here are a few guidelines to help you craft your op-ed piece:
Focus. Develop and support one argument thoroughly. Don’t try to cover several points more generally. By trying to say everything, you may end up saying nothing.
Support. Your opinion needs to be supported by compelling facts (preferably ones you can attribute to a particular study). This will give your piece some substance.
Illustrate. A well-chosen personal story or real life example will give life to your argument. In an op-ed, or very briefly in a letter, a story can illustrate the crucial impact of play on one child or one family.
Speak plainly. Write in plain English, without using too many large words. Use shorter sentences to get your point across in as clear a fashion as possible.
Follow the rules. All newspapers have guidelines for op-eds that generally include a maximum word count, exclusivity rules, and instructions for how to submit the piece. Often, you will need to pitch the op-ed to an editorial board to get it published. You can often find the rules for submission on the newspaper’s website or on the op-ed pages of the physical paper, but if not, contact the editor directly to determine the publication’s specific rules. No matter how well-written your submission is, if it doesn’t follow the rules it likely will not get printed.
Submit and follow-up. Submit your piece, following the newspaper’s instructions for doing so. If it is accepted, congratulate yourself, make copies of the piece when printed and make sure that key individuals and organizations get a copy in case they miss the first printing! Be sure to send a copy to the KaBOOM! Playmaker Network!
Before you submit an op-ed, check to make sure:
"The very existence of youth is due in part to the necessity for play; the animal does not play because he is young; he has a period of youth because he must play."
– Karl Groos, German evolutionary biologist, 1861–1946