Making Play a Community Priority

ewa-by-gentry-playground-above-view-photo-ipr-hawaii

The Thomas H. Gentry Park has become a community asset providing children and their families a place to relax, exercise, and be together outdoors within walking distance of their homes. (photo by IPR Hawaii)

The act of play is disappearing from the lives of our children. Kids are playing less in their homes, schools and neighborhoods as active unstructured play falls victim to tv, video games, internet, busy schedules, declining recess time, and a lack of access to safe play environments. There is concerning evidence showing that the loss of play coincides with dramatic increases in anxiety, depression, and suicide rates among teens and young adults.  We must team together to keep community play a priority to help stop this growing trend and its negative effects on the long-term health of our society.

Recognizing Obstacles to Daily Play Activities

The non-profit organizations KaBOOM and ideas42 partnered together to research psychological and behavioral barriers that prevent kids from playing more often.  Their study focused on answering one basic question: How can cities ensure that all kids get the balanced and active play they need to thrive?

Utilizing a “behavioral mapping” method, the study identified three significant behavioral patterns that prevent daily play activities and offered up suggestions for cities and their communities to start addressing these issues.

The key behavioral factors recognized as hindrances were:

  • Little consideration of play options: Due to busy schedules of parents & caregivers are less likely to even thing about stopping for play activities which often require extra planning and timing.  How many times have you passed by a playground rushing between activities hoping your kids won’t notice because you don’t have the time or energy to stop?
  • Benefits of play not recognized by parents & caregivers:  We tend to crave immediate feedback and the long-term developmental benefits of play can be difficult to recognize in the moment. Thus, caregivers may not place enough value on the activity of play.
  • Perceived high cost of play:  Taking the kids out to play at a park (especially if there’s none close by) can require a load of tasks and time for parents (often perceived as hassles). Preparation, travel time, time and effort spent while supervising can cause caretakers to focus on the cost of play rather than its benefits.

Re-integrating Play into Our Daily Lives

Recognizing existing problems leads to finding solutions.  The study also offered solutions through community play initiatives to help further positive conversations and stimulate action within our cities and communities:

  • Find ways to play everywhere: Families have a lot of ‘dead time’ traveling between places and waits once they reach their destinations. This is especially true for low-income families who often travel by public transportation and have their children with them while trying to complete other tasks.  Imagine simple play equipment installed at bus stops and play zones or activities for kids at doctor’s offices, restaurants and stores.
  • Creating mini play destinations in every neighborhood:  A visit to the park or playground will feel less like a major outing if there were closer, smaller “play destinations” located “around the corner”.  They compare this concept to the difference between major supermarkets and neighborhood convenience stores for easier daily access.
  • Creating family-friendly cities:  Cities should invest in creating more play opportunities at neighborhood levels.  Destinations and activities focused on multi-generational appeal will be more likely to attract caregivers and help them to appreciate the value of community activities and play for their family members.

Community Play Initiatives

Innovative cities and communities across the nation are waking up to the benefits of play and beginning to take steps in making play environments more accessible to residents and promoting play throughout their neighborhoods. 151 cities across the nation have  gained recognition for sharing creative concepts and taking action in the effort to increase play opportunities for children. There is a wealth of inspiration out there for those interested in learning more about how to stimulate play initiatives in their home towns. Check out the KaBOOM website for more information and contact IPR Hawaii to discuss ways we can partner with you to increase the “playablity” of our local communities.

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