There was a time when children played from morning till night. They ran, jumped, played dress-up and created endless stories out of their active imaginations.
Now many scarcely play this way at all. What happened?
• TV, video games and computer screens became prevalent (the average youth spends more than four and a half hours per day watching);
• Academic pressure and testing, beginning with 3-year-olds;
• Overscheduled lives full of adult-organized activities;
• Loss of school recess and safe green space (due to violence) for outdoor play.
Recently, I received this chain message via Facebook: “When I was a kid I didn’t have a Nintendo DS, XBox or Wii. I played outside and had a curfew, it was the street lights! My toys were the outside world. If I didn’t eat what my mom made me, I didn’t eat. I didn’t dare tell my parents ‘no’ or dare to talk back. Life wasn’t hard, it was life . . . And I survived.”
How many of us can relate to this? I sure can.
These were the good times. Not long ago, I remember racing bare foot down the street against the boys in my old neighborhood in East St. Louis. At the time, I wasn’t thinking about college or playing sports competitively; as a young child, all I wanted to do was have fun. Everything was about fun. Life lessons are learned throughout our lives, and now I’ve realized that those moments as a kid presented many life lessons.
You ask what were the lessons? Have fun and enjoy the moments. By having fun and enjoying the moment, I learned that I love running. I learned that sports gave me a high (adrenaline rush) unlike many things in my young life. I learned that I was competitive . . . actually very competitive. Through playing unstructured and structured sports and games, I developed a healthy dose of self-esteem and a positive body image.
As a result of my experiences, one of my personal missions is to develop youth leaders by engaging youth in positive activities through sports and recreational games. Why is this important? High quality sports programs can greatly contribute to the healthy development of young people.
Sports-based youth development programs provide positive support and opportunities youth need to be healthy contributing citizens now and as adults. A sports-based youth development experience is one in which youth learn sports along with life and leadership skills in a safe, fun, supportive and challenging environment.
This experience involves caring relationships, facilitated learning, experiential learning and vigorous physical activity. A young person’s full engagement in sports and related activities is more important for their development than whether they win.
I am encouraging parents to get their children involved in sports, not only for the physical benefits but also because it teaches them to set and reach goals, and gives them that sense of pride and self-worth that goes along with it.
I hope that folks who read this will see how sports gives you a foundation that is transferrable, and how if you’ve played sports (at any level, professional or amateur), you are carrying around knowledge that you can use effectively in other fields.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP YOUR CHILD OR OTHER CHILDREN PLAY?
• Starting this week – Monday, April 25th – register your child for the Summer Track Program. Download the participant waiver here. In the Austin community, parents may return their forms to Westside Health Authority or e-mail the form to firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Sign-up as a volunteer coach for the Summer Track Program. Your role will establish positive and supportive environments, and develop sustained, positive peer-peer and youth-adult relationships that are intentional, mutual and deliberately focused on building youth’s capacity and skills. For more information, e-mail: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Reduce or eliminate screen time. Give children a chance to flex their own imaginative muscles. They may be bored at first. Be prepared with simple play things and suggestions for make-believe play to inspire their inner creativity.
• Curtail time spent in adult-organized activities. Children need time for self-initiated play. Overscheduled lives leave little time for play.
• Encourage outdoor adventures. Reserve time every day for outdoor play where children can run, climb, find secret hiding places and dream up dramas. Natural materials — sticks, mud, water, rocks — are the raw materials of play.
• Bring back the art of real work: Believe it or not adult activity — cooking, raking, cleaning, washing the car — actually inspires children to play. Children like to help for short periods and then engage in their own play.
BECOME AN ADVOCATE FOR PLAY
• Spread the word. Share the evidence about the importance of play in preschool and kindergarten – and of recess for older children – with parents, teachers, school officials and policymakers.
• Lobby for safe, well-maintained parks and play areas in your community. If safety is a concern, organize with other parents to monitor play areas.
• Start an annual local PLAY DAY. For tips on how to do this in your neighborhood or town, visit www.ipausa.org.