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The Value Of Play In Texas

Aug 17, 2007
A report in the Journal Pediatrics in January of 2007 by Dr. Kenneth R. Ginsburg and two committees of the American Academy of Pediatrics summed up the importance of free play in Dallas, Houston and elsewhere else in Texas to a child's development. The report made these points:

* Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive and emotional strength.

* Play is important to brain development.

* Play allows children to create and explore a world they can master, conquering their fears while practicing adult roles.

* Play helps children develop new competencies that lead to enhanced confidence and the resiliency they will need to face challenges.

* Undirected play allows children to learn how to work in groups, to share, to negotiate and to resolve conflicts.

* Some play must remain child-driven, with parents either not present or as passive observers. When play is child-driven, children practice decision-making, move at their own pace, discover their own areas of interest and ultimately engage fully in the passions they wish to pursue.

* When play is controlled by adults, children acquiesce to adult rules and concerns and lose some benefits of play, particularly in developing creativity, leadership and group skills.

* In contrast to passive entertainment, play builds active, healthy bodies.

* Above all, play is a simple joy that is a cherished part of childhood.

Allowing Reasonable Risks

Franklin Stone, a lawyer, community activist and former director of the nonprofit public policy group Common Good, is concerned about the effects that litigation is having on children's access to free play.

"For fear of lawsuits, we've created a bubble-wrapped society," Ms. Stone said. "Fear of litigation has resulted in the 'dumbing down' of playgrounds and the closing of sledding hills and hiking trails. We've made playgrounds immensely safe for 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds, but they're boring for 8-, 9- and 10-year-olds, who are on the streets with their skateboards.

"New playgrounds today have only bucket swings for babies, no monkey bars or high slides or seesaws," Ms. Stone added. "Yet children are much more likely to be injured from almost everything else --from beds, pots and pans, TVs, organized sports -- than they are in a playground.

"We need to re-evaluate safety guidelines to see if we've gone too far. And we need to consider legal protection for those who offer opportunities for play -- the schools, churches and community organizations who are now afraid of being sued if a child gets hurt."

Children have to learn to take reasonable physical and social risks if they are to become the confident grown-ups parents want them to be. If children are constantly being told not to do things because it's too dangerous or they might get hurt, parents are teaching them that they are weak, Ms. Stone said.

Susan G. Solomon, author of "American Playgrounds: Revitalizing Community Space," said: "Children need a chance to take acceptable risks, learn cause and effect, make choices and see consequences. If they don't learn to take risks, we'll lose a generation of entrepreneurs and scientists."

New vs. Old Ideas

A recent proposal to create playgrounds in New York City that offer sand and water and various portable objects that are overseen by a trained play worker, revives a concept that prevailed there in the 1920s and is still practiced in Europe. But it has drawn some devastating criticism from parents and others who say children don't need adults "directing" their play.

Rhonda L. Clements, a professor of education at Manhattanville College in Purchase, N.Y., and the author of nine books on children's play, called it an exciting and much-needed concept.

The idea, she said, has been misunderstood. Play workers don't tell children how to play. Rather, they provide the equipment for imaginative play that gives children of different ages, ethnic backgrounds and skill levels a chance to interact with and learn from one another, unlike traditional playgrounds that are more isolating.

Also crucial, the authors of the Pediatrics report wrote, is more parent-child playtime. Some of the best interactions occur when parents work on a hobby or play sports with their children or become fully immersed in child-centered play.

Whether you're a married individual with children or a single individual without the responsibility of parenthood, "playing" should be an important part of your daily routine. Recreation is crucial to staying fit and healthy, both physically and mentally.
About the Author
Pat Carpenter writes for Precedent Insurance Company. Precedent puts a new spin on health insurance. Learn more at Precedent.com
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