Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A community conversation about the need for play

We had yet another fascinating conversation following our third screening of “Where Do the Children Play?” last Thursday at Audubon’s Environmental Education Center – perhaps the liveliest yet! We drew a diverse crowd who approached the issue of children’s play from many different angles. Here’s a recap of some interesting points. Bear with me, people had A LOT to say!

  • Museum director Janice O’Donnell talked about the need for public places like the Museum, Audubon and schools to encourage the important conversation about children’s play.
  • Panelist Scott Wolf, director of Grow Smart RI approached the film from the framework of his concern about our pattern of growth and development and suburban sprawl. He shared that RI is the 2nd most densely populated and 2nd most urbanized state, yet the 15th most forested – “we have an incredible urban/rural balance.” Grow Smart promotes patterns of development that are good for the environment and for human beings; if we design communities differently – denser, mixed use, more walkable, more access to transit – we can open them up to more unstructured activity.
  • Panelist Kristen Swanberg of Audubon spoke about the organization’s desire to provide opportunities for people to get outside and engage with nature and talked about the No Child Left Inside initiative to encourage environmental curriculum in classrooms and provide training for teachers about how to get their kids outside.
  • A mother shared that her family moved from a rural area to the east side of Providence and says her son is now able to walk to school and has more desire to be outside. “Play and being outdoors are important, it’s in the research - but that’s not what’s happening in schools.”
  • Parents talked about reduced recess – only 15 minutes at many schools and no recess at others – and the desire to build better playgrounds.
  • The grandmother of an 11 month old said that we just need a little green space and a spoon, to get away from plastic, and “to not be afraid to let them crawl on the grass and dig in the dirt.”
  • Dr. Bill Strader of the New England Symposium on Play talked about how there’s no room for play in current school curriculum and mentioned some important resources: Playing for Keeps; a recent article that advocates for including recess as one of the “4 Rs”; and the International Association Promoting the Child’s Right to Play.
  • A Bristol resident lives just a few blocks from her son’s school but there are no crosswalks, so he rides the bus for 5 minutes. In response, Scott Wolf mentioned a call for proposals this fall for grant money to be used by schools & communities for improved infrastructure and consciousness-raising.
  • Janice said, “be vocal!” and directed the audience to the many resources available through the Alliance for Childhood’s website.
  • A Parks and Recreation director pleaded for more money to go to recreation, that they’re a better vehicle than schools for unstructured play, that it can happen after the school day more easily than during.
  • A daycare owner talked about getting their young children outside every day, that their teachers’ only responsibility is to interact with kids - not direct them - and encouraged everyone to “take 10 minutes to watch kids” to see what they’re interested in.
  • A college professor talked about the consequences of the reduction of unstructured play: “Students are not independent thinkers, not creative – and it gets worse every year.” She also shared, “We have to get over the fact that we don’t trust anyone else to watch our kids. There are two issues here - unstructured and outdoor activities. We need more unstructured activities and we need to talk to one another as a community, to trust one another.”
  • Janice responded that not only do we need trust, we need to “collectively share responsibility for our children. We need a different consciousness in our community.”
Stay tuned for information about joining the conversation. In the meantime, leave us a comment with your thoughts and ideas!

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