Special Event: Free public screenings of “Where Do the Children Play?”, followed by discussions led by Providence Children’s Museum director Janice O’Donnell and other panelists, will be held Wednesday, May 6 at Highlander Charter School and Thursday, June 4 at Audubon’s Environmental Education Center. See details below.
As soon as the weather broke in the spring, my friends and I headed down to the creek. We had work to do. Using forked sticks, rusty tin cans and our freezing fingers, we cleared the water of accumulated dead leaves. We collected stones and logs and engineered channels, dams and bridges. We caught tadpoles and gathered interesting marsh plants. There were trees to climb, territories to claim and defend, adventures to imagine. Our play was fiercely passionate.
Later on, when I was 10, we moved to a more urban area but the intensity of our play never waned. The boundaries of our world stretched as far as we could ride on our bicycles and get home before the streetlights came on. And we owned that world – the empty lots, the construction sites, ponds, puddles and playgrounds. We were cowboys and our bikes were horses. We were the cavalry and the foundations of half-built houses were our forts. Kids don’t play like that any more. I don’t mean to idealize the 50s. There was risk in our freedom; kids did get scared and hurt. But the outdoors was ours.
At the Children’s Museum, we often use a training exercise we call “memories of play.” We ask people to conjure and share childhood play memories and we’ve noticed that the really powerful memories shared by most people over 40 are of playing outside with no grown-up involvement at all. But this kind of play is disappearing. Parents worry about “stranger danger.” Television and other electronic amusements claim huge amounts of kids’ time. To keep them safe, we enroll kids in structured out-of-school activities. Even recess time in elementary school is being reduced.
Educators, pediatricians, psychologists and others concerned about children are alarmed by this trend – Elizabeth Goodenough, author of Secret Spaces of Childhood, among them. Her book inspired the thought-provoking PBS documentary film “Where Do The Children Play?” In the film, Richard Louv, author of the important book Last Child in the Woods, argues that it is that intimate, personal relationship with the natural world – the kind my friends and I had with our woodland creek – that leads people to care about and advocate for its preservation. Dr. Kenneth R. Ginsberg, lead author of the 2007 American Academy of Pediatrics’ report on the importance of play, advocates for the benefits of outdoor play to both soothe and challenge children. He points out that the alarming rise in childhood obesity corresponds with the decline in children engaged in active outdoor play. But the most eloquent voices in the film belong to the children themselves.
Providence Children’s Museum presented the first in a series of “Where Do The Children Play?” screenings and community conversations at Lincoln School in February. The film, and the remarks of panelists afterwards, inspired a lively audience discussion. It was clear that this is an issue that people care deeply about. Two more free public screenings are scheduled, on May 6 in Providence and on June 4 in Bristol. Join us! Together we can ensure that all our kids have the play places they need.
Wednesday, May 6, 6:30 – 8:30 PM
Highlander Charter School
42 Lexington Street
Providence, RI 02905
Thursday, June 4, 7:00 – 9:00 PM
Audubon’s Environmental Education Center
1401 Hope Street (Rte 114)
Bristol, RI 02809
For more information, contact Megan Fischer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Presented with assistance from the U.S. Alliance for Childhood, a nonprofit research and advocacy group that works for the restoration of play in children’s lives.