Prescription for Play

Imagine a treatment that would improve your mood, make you smarter, keep you healthier and improve your relationships.  How much would you invest in that therapy?

Turns out there is such a thing, and best of all – it’s free.  It’s called “nature.”

How many of you were told as youngsters by a parent or grandparent – “Just go out and play”?  And then you did just that.  You’d go out for hours after school, just exploring the backyard, or the woods, or the playground, with your friends until it was dinnertime.

I am afraid we have lost touch with the value of free time and play, especially for our children.  What better time than summer to re-focus on the lost art of simply playing outside?

We have overscheduled children frantically trying to keep up with their overscheduled parents in our 21st century world where relaxation time must be planned as well.  Play-dates have replaced free play, often booked weeks in advance as parents link up their PDA’s to ensure kids can hang out together.

I know, I know, it’s a different world now.  The ability to pay “partial continuous attention” is a highly valued skill these days. Parents feel the pressure to prepare their children for the “real world” they’ll face. Globalization forces us to compare our educational systems not only to those of neighboring towns but to those of other countries half-way across the world. I am not so naive as to believe we can turn back the clock and remove all stress from life. Indeed, as researcher Hans Selye noted, stress is not necessarily a bad thing; it is simply “the nonspecific response of the body to any demand.” So we must focus on teaching our children not how to avoid demands per se but how to develop better coping mechanisms.  One of the best ways, it seems, is to promote free, unstructured play – especially in natural, outdoor settings.

More and more research is pointing out the costs of hectic childhoods and lack of time spent in outdoor settings.  Richard Louv, author of “The Last Child in the Woods,” aptly termed this phenomenon, “Nature-Deficit Disorder.”  His Children and Nature Network was specifically created to encourage us to reconnect with nature.  A mounting number of research studies highlight the positive impact of free outdoor play on children’s emotional and physical health.  A study published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine (Burdette HL, Whitaker RC: Resurrecting free play in young children: looking beyond fitness and fatness to attention, affiliation, and affect. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 159: 46-50) highlights the physical toll on our children: “We propose that efforts to increase physical activity in young children might be more successful if physical activity is promoted using different language-encouraging play-and if a different set of outcomes are emphasized-aspects of child well-being other than physical health.”

Another study, published in the American Journal of Public Health (Kuo FE, Taylor AF: A potential natural treatment for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: evidence from a national study. Am J Public Health 94:1580-6), demonstrates the positive effects of outdoor play on children with ADHD.  The American Academy of Pediatrics authored a seminal report, “The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds,” written in defense of play and in response to forces threatening free play and unscheduled time.

Not that we necessarily have to develop an evidence-base to feel good about recommending free, unstructured play for our children, but in this crazy world where some towns actually schedule one night a year for families to be together and relax, we need all the help we can get.

How can we create such a place?  Psychologist Michael Thompson, author of “Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys,” recently blogged about a wonderful lost world he re-discovered.  He describes this world….

“… where people sit down and eat three meals together every day, serving their food from platters and talking with one another throughout the meal. A world where ten-year-olds set the table for dinner and take all the dishes back to the kitchen when the meal is finished, without complaint. A world where thirteen-year-old boys don’t play video games every night, nor do they watch TV or sit in front of computers. Instead, they lie on their beds and read comic books and graphic novels, sometimes even grown-up novels. In this world I saw eleven-year-old girls walking together and holding hands as they walked back to their cabins. Right out in the open. No girls there send mean instant messages to one another; they don’t I.M. at all. Instead, they sing. When they are making their beds (yes, they make their beds every morning) and sweeping out their rooms, they sing together. First one starts to sing a song, and then the others join in, spontaneously. There is no adult leading them.”

Doesn’t this sound too good to be true?  What Dr. Thompson is describing, of course, is summer camp.  I bring up this example not to suggest that all children should go to summer camp or that all families can afford or would choose to send them.  It is but one example of finding space for children to literally unplug and just be.  Wouldn’t it be incredible if we could create this world somewhere in every community?  This is a major socioeconomic challenge.

First Lady Michelle Obama is one of those taking on this challenge.  Her “Let’s Move” campaign to combat childhood obesity recently launched a complementary  initiative – “Let’s Move Outside”

– to expressly promote having fun and getting fit in the great American outdoors.  “America’s Great Outdoors”, in fact, the name of an initiative announced this spring by President Obama in part “to help families spend more time outdoors, building on what the First Lady has done through the Let’s Move Initiative, to encourage young people to hike and bike and get outside more often.”

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, during the press conference to announce the initiative, commented:

“80% of Americans now live in urban areas, many with limited access to clean and safe open spaces… Americans are losing touch with those historical places where our nation was formed, sites that bind us with a shared heritage. Our children spend half as much time outside as their parents once did as we face an epidemic of childhood obesity… Innovation and collaboration will be required to meet these challenges. A start has already been made. Tens of thousands of young Americans actively participating in youth conservation organizations taking root across the country. A new generation reconnecting with nature as they build trails, plant trees and restore the land.”

We must join with and support our children in this movement.  There are many obstacles to our success in this endeavor, but we must see these challenges not as insurmountable barriers but as opportunities to create a healthier world.

Enough reading (and writing) already– let’s get outside and play!

Comments 56

  1. Hello, Neat post. There is a problem together with your web site
    in web explorer, would check this? IE still is the marketplace chief and a large portion of people will leave
    out your magnificent writing due to this problem.

  2. I will right away grasp your rss ass I can’t find your e-mail subscription hypeflink oor
    e-newsletter service. Do you’ve any? Pleaase let me understand so that I could subscribe.
    Thanks.

    Also visit my webpage take away gloucester,
    Bessie,

  3. Free online games… […]With havin so much content do you ever run into any problems of plagorism or copyright infringement? My website has a lot of completely unique content I’ve either authored myself or outsourced but it looks like a lot of it is popping it up all ov…

  4. I think this is among the most significant info for me. And i am glad reading your article. But should remark on few general things, The web site style is ideal, the articles is really great : D. Good job, cheers

  5. I don’t even know how I stopped up here, but I thought this put up was once good. I do not recognise who you are however certainly you are going to a well-known blogger in the event you aren’t already Cheers!

  6. I like the helpful info you provide in your articles. I’ll bookmark your blog and check again here frequently. I’m quite sure I’ll learn plenty of new stuff right here! Good luck for the next!

  7. Hi there, just became alert to your blog through Google, and found that it is truly informative. I’m gonna watch out for brussels. I’ll appreciate if you continue this in future. Numerous people will be benefited from your writing. Cheers!

  8. I’m nott thgat much of a online reader to be honest but your blogs really nice, keep it up!

    I’ll go ahead andd bookmark your site to comne back in the
    future. All the best

    Feel free to surf to my webpage; best chinese restaurant in gloucestewr [Laverne]

  9. Great items from you, man. I’ve have in mind your stuff prior to
    and you are simply extremely excellent. I really like what
    you’ve acquired here, really like what you are stating and the way in which you assert it.

    You are making it entertaining and you continue to care for to stay it smart.

    I cant wait to learn far more from you. That
    is really a tremendous site.

  10. Everything posted made a ton of sense. But, what about this? suppose you were to write a killer post title? I mean, I don’t want to tell you how to run your blog, but what if you added a post title to maybe grab a person’s attention? I mean BLOG_TITLE is a little plain. You ought to look at Yahoo’s home page and see how they create news headlines to get viewers interested. You might try adding a video or a picture or two to grab people interested about what you’ve got to say. In my opinion, it would bring your posts a little bit more interesting.|

  11. After I originally commented I seem to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now every time a comment is added I recieve 4 emails with the exact same comment. There has to be a way you are able to remove me from that service? Thanks a lot!|

  12. I have been surfing online greater than three hours as of late, but I never discovered any fascinating article like yours. It is lovely value sufficient for me. In my opinion, if all web owners and bloggers made just right content as you probably did, the web will be much more helpful than ever before.|

  13. Hello, i read your blog occasionally and i own a similar one and i was just wondering if you get a lot of spam comments? If so how do you stop it, any plugin or anything you can recommend? I get so much lately it’s driving me crazy so any assistance is very much appreciated.|

  14. I don’t even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was great. I do not know who you are but certainly you’re going to a famous blogger if you are not already 😉 Cheers!|

  15. What i do not understood is actually how you are not actually much more well-liked than you might be now. You are very intelligent. You recognize therefore considerably on the subject of this topic, produced me individually consider it from numerous numerous angles. Its like women and men are not fascinated unless it’s something to accomplish with Woman gaga! Your own stuffs outstanding. All the time handle it up!|

  16. Hello there, just was alert to your weblog via Google, and located that it is truly informative. I’m going to watch out for brussels. I’ll appreciate when you proceed this in future. Numerous other folks will likely be benefited out of your writing. Cheers!|

  17. I have been browsing on-line greater than three hours as of late, yet I by no means found any interesting article like yours. It’s beautiful worth sufficient for me. In my view, if all web owners and bloggers made just right content material as you probably did, the net might be much more useful than ever before.|

  18. Thank you a lot for sharing this with all people you actually understand what you’re talking approximately! Bookmarked. Kindly additionally visit my web site =). We can have a link alternate contract among us|

  19. Hi! I just wanted to ask if you ever have any problems with hackers? My last blog (wordpress) was hacked and I ended up losing a few months of hard work due to no backup. Do you have any methods to protect against hackers?|

  20. Good day! I know this is kinda off topic but I’d figured I’d ask. Would you be interested in exchanging links or maybe guest writing a blog post or vice-versa? My website discusses a lot of the same subjects as yours and I believe we could greatly benefit from each other. If you happen to be interested feel free to send me an email. I look forward to hearing from you! Wonderful blog by the way!|

  21. I’m curious to find out what blog system you have been working with? I’m experiencing some minor security problems with my latest site and I’d like to find something more risk-free. Do you have any suggestions?|

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *