Turning over rocks, making daisy chains and digging a hole to China. Sounds like a perfect day of outdoor play. And it probably was the way many parents spent their childhood summers. But fewer children have that same luxury today-either from fear or because the demands of full–time work schedules leave little time for it.
“Even as a casual observer, you notice that children are not out as often,” says Rhonda Clements, president of the American Association for the Child’s Right to Play and professor of physical education at Hofstra University in New York. She collaborated with Wisk Laundry Detergent to survey 830 mothers about their views on outdoor play. Most mothers say their children would rather stay inside watching TV or playing on the computer. When kids do venture outside, moms say they fear for their kids’ safety.
Clements says preventing kids from playing outside could have detrimental long–term effects.
“[Being] outdoors stimulates the imagination and creativity and gives [children] a sense of freedom and independence,” she says.
For Lincoln Park resident Christine Ott–Shaw, whose 6–year–old son, Liam, has a penchant for parks, the unknown danger makes her reluctant to let her son go out without supervision.
“I think [outdoor] play is really important for [a child’s] development,” Ott–Shaw says. “[But] I wouldn’t feel any safer in the suburbs or the city, given the way world is.”
Kidnappings and other reports of child endangerment make the decision to let children play outside more complicated, says Hilary Richardson, an Evanston mother of three.
“There’s no way I would let my daughter and her friends play outside in the front because it’s not a sheltered area,” she says. “It’s not that I don’t trust my kids-I don’t trust other grown–ups.”
Clements says parents should use outdoor play as a time to watch how a child relates to the space around her and whether she puts any safety measures in place for herself and her playmates.
Then use that knowledge to explain what she should do to protect herself. This helps her be more aware of possible dangers and more able to predict consequences of her actions, she says.
From July 11–13, Wisk Laundry Detergent is sponsoring a play day outdoors on the grass at Gateway Park, located at the entrance of Navy Pier. For more information, call Navy Pier at (312) 595–PIER or visit www.wiskplayday.com.
–Shweta Govindarajan, Medill News Service