As kids return to school, Playground Pointers of Chicago Reviews Summer Play Trends and Lessons Learned

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Summertime is all about playtime for kids. This year’s play “trends” received deep media coverage and often sparked controversy. This information is invaluable for parents as more structured time takes over for kids as school begins.

Let kids jump off that couch, let them be bored...and don't over-schedule them.

In 2014, the media focused on:

1. Risky Play
2. Imaginative Play
3. More Play

Risky Play is all about allowing children to explore their surroundings in a less “safe” area (i.e. playgrounds) and let them figure out how to push their own safety boundaries. In the article “Risky Play: Why Children Love It and Need It”, by Psychology Today published on April 7, 2014, states, “In risky play, youngsters dose themselves with manageable quantities of fear and practice keeping their heads and behaving adaptively while experiencing that fear. They learn that they can manage their fear, overcome it, and come out alive. Over the past 60 years we have witnessed, in our culture, a continuous, gradual, but ultimately dramatic decline in children’s opportunities to play freely, without adult control, and especially in their opportunities to play in risky ways.” The article goes on to state that children’s emotional wellbeing has declined, as they do not have the opportunities to experience “risk”. [http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/201404/risky-play-why-children-love-it-and-need-it __title__ Risky Play]

Imaginative Play was also a focus and a concern, as kids are spending more and more time playing at playgrounds, which includes a specific set of equipment and play directives. “The Playground is Dead! - Long Live the Playground!” By Playground Professionals published on April 28, 2014, states that “Historically, most children’s play occurred in the open countryside, vacant lots, riparian corridors and even streets and doorways. Going to the playground was fun but not where most play happened.” [http://www.playgroundprofessionals.com/news/playgrounds/playground-dead-long-live-playground104?utm_source=Playground%20Professionals%20LLC&utm_campaign=dacca31b51-Playground_Magazine-4_29_2014&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_8dd6418103-dacca31b51-338316001&mc_cid=dacca31b51&mc_eid=f323f67363 __title__ The Playground is Dead! Long Live the Playground!]

Despite the focus on Risky Play and Imaginative Play, it still seems one major point of play is missing, even declining: More Play. Kids “have become increasingly regimented with sports and after-school activities. Competitive school sports have become default babysitters… Concerned that their children will fall behind in school and competitive sports, and worried about their safety when they’re on the loose outside, parents have unwittingly reigned in the creative and physical freedom children so desperately need. Rare are the kids who can wander down the block by themselves or walk home from school with their friends, a prime time for impromptu play that’s vanishing from children’s lives," according to Outside Magazine’s article “America Needs a Playtime Intervention.” http://www.outsideonline.com/outdoor-adventure/the-current/raising-rippers/Kids-Lives-Depend-On-Playtime.html

There may not be much many parents can do in regards to what opportunities kids have to play – parents may work full-time so kids need after school and summer planned activities, or parents live in an area where truly a playground is the only safe place to play. Even though it seems most play happens at playgrounds, the adult can assist in developing open play ideas to expand playground playtime. Playground Pointers has witnessed a group of 1st graders create an elaborate playtime scenario that lasted hours, with playground equipment acting as the “stage” for their interactions, not their primary source of regimented play.

Parents need to keep these invaluable lessons in mind as schedules become structured and outdoor play wanes. Planning for summer of 2015 can start as early as January, so try a little less structure and a little more "risk!" And let kids jump off that couch, let them be “bored” so they create their own play solution, and stop over-scheduling their free time. Don’t underestimate playtime – and join in on the fun yourself.

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Mistie Lucht
Playground Pointers - Chicago, Pointing Families To Outdoor Play
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