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Playing Together

By Janice O’Donnell, Executive Director, Providence Children’s Museum

Research indicates that today’s children play outside less than any previous generation.  Yet, studies also show that parents know that active outdoor free play is really good for kids.  What’s the problem?

There are a bunch of problems actually: busy families with highly structured schedules, the lure of the ubiquitous screen, fears for children’s safety, increasing amounts of homework…

Maybe the more important question is: What’s the solution?


Well, for a start we can talk together; share concerns, ideas and resources with each other.  Providence Children’s Museum, the Providence Athenaeum and Kidoinfo are presenting a series of community conversations — Speaking of Play — this spring for just that purpose, to bring people together and start a dialogue.  I’ve heard anecdotes from parents that show change can happen when people talk to one another.

How about these conversation starters:

  • “I’d be okay with Molly going to the playground without an adult, but I’d need to know other kids were there.  Would you be okay if she and your kids went together?”
  • “Josh is in soccer and Lego League.  I think swimming lessons would be too much.  I want him to have time for free play too.  How many extracurricular activities do you allow your kids?”
  • “I heard you’re limiting screen time for your kids.  I’ve been thinking we need to do that too. How’s it working out?”

For another thing, we can get together.  I think Jeanine Silversmith’s RI Families in Nature is one of the most brilliant simple ideas ever.  She plans and announces a monthly hike.  Families show up and everyone takes a woodland walk together.  Neighborhood park clean ups are happening all over the state on Earth Day weekend (April 20 and 21).  What a great thing to do as a family — gather with neighbors and get to know your neighborhood park.  I love this idea too, borrowed from Playborhood: put the swing set or tire swing or sandbox or trampoline in the front yard.  Encourage neighborhood kids to come on over and play.

Finally, we can work for change together.  At the April 2 conversation in the Speaking of Play series, we’ll hear from parents from three different public schools who have joined with others in concerted long-term efforts to change attitudes and policies around recess at their kids’ schools.  The Partnership for Providence Parks was formed to support healthy communities through active neighborhood involvement and encourage families to play in and explore the city’s network of parks.  The Partnership led the first Playful Providence celebration last year and is planning a spring and summer full of events this year, starting with a Pop-Up Play Day at India Point Park on May 11.  The Children’s Museum, Providence Department of Parks & Recreation, and other groups and organizations are joining the Partnership to make children and play visible in our community.

We need to support children’s play by supporting each other, from neighbor to neighbor to collaborative city or statewide efforts.  Lack of time, space and policies for children’s play is a problem, but it’s one we can solve.  Together.

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