Play might be an internationally-recognized right of childhood, but as a society, we’re not doing so well at protecting play. Consider:
- According to one 2008 study, 25% of U.S. elementary schools don’t have scheduled daily recess for all grades
- Schools with a high population of minority and low-income students are less likely to have daily recess
- Kids today spend less time playing outside than their parents did
- Kids’ free time declined 7.4 hours per week between 1981 and 1997, and another 2 hours per week between 1997 and 2002/2003
- Playtime is increasingly adult-supervised and structured
The good news is that some parents, organizations and communities are taking steps to halt the march away from child-centered play. Concerned citizens and organizations are stepping up to help protect kids’ right to play. Want to help? Here are some ways you can protect play:
- Stay informed. Do you know what the recess policy is at your local school? If not, find out. Check the play policies at local child care centers as well. And keep up on the latest research about the benefits of play for children. If you’re informed, you’ll be in better shape to share information with local decision makers.
- Join a play-supporting organization. A variety of local, national and international organizations now work to protect kids’ right to play. Consider joining or financially supporting Right to Play, the American Association for Child’s Right to Play and/or the Right to Recess campaign.
- Plan a Play Day. The American Association for Child’s Right to Play has directions on their website for interested individuals and organizations who want to organize a community Play Day to draw attention to the importance of play.
- Volunteer as a recess monitor. Some schools have reduced or eliminated recess because there aren’t enough staff to provide adequate supervision at recess time. Consider offering your services a few hours per week — and play with the kids! If some kids seem to have trouble finding an activity, teach them Captain May I? or Red Rover, or start a game of Tag.
- Become a play advocate. Speak up! If you’re concerned about the amount of play at school, schedule a meeting with the principal. Listen to the school’s concerns, but share yours as well. Be prepared to share information also. I sent my son’s principal links to Playworks and Peaceful Playground’s recess programs.
- Talk to other parents. When I became concerned about the elimination of football at recess, I sent emails to other school parents (and I started with parents of kids’ who played football in a local league). Alone, I won’t accomplish much. But if I join together with other concerned parents, I increase the odds of the school revisiting the ban on football.
- Involve kids. Kids know what they need to play. Consider working with kids and adults to improve play opportunities for children in your community. For a look at how one community in Ireland did just that, watch this video.
- Buck the trend. Organized activities, such as sports and band, are great, but make sure that your kids have plenty of unstructured time as well. Sure, your kids might be the only ones on the block not in summer school, but that’s OK. Protecting play begins at home.