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WIRED TO NATURE • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • ‘Play’ is serious business for youngsters By Henry Owen Kids are not getting the play experiences they need. This problem isn’t unique to West University. Kids all over the country are being shorted on unstructured play time. Today we have more parks with elaborate plastic play structures than ever before in our history, yet our children are experiencing a play crisis. Why? Traditional playground equipment is designed by adults for how they think children want to play — or, rather to be a safe version of how they think children want to play. Traditional play ������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������ equipment which keeps playgrounds looking nice without maintenance (what adults want), but also limits children’s ability to creatively change their environment as they play. There is another way. If given enough loose parts like logs, branches, rocks, and sand, kids will create their own play equipment. Lack of time also contributes to our play crisis. Kids are overscheduled and don’t have enough unstructured time for free play. During the school year, recess for my kindergartener lasts a mere 20 minutes. Kids need extended play time to nourish their creativity, overcome boredom and to play deeply by inventing elaborate play schemes that can be returned to day after day. Opportunities for extended free play are scarce. This wasn’t always the case. We all remember play experiences from our childhood in which we were left alone outside to create our own play for long periods of time. “Be home for dinner,” many moms called out at the beginning of each summer day. Given time, space, and nature’s toy box, children will play deeply, allowing their own imaginations to overcome their boredom. Children in our nature play area just outside West U in Russ Pitman Park will concentrate, innovate, and collaborate. They will invent play schemes that can extend over days. Free play isn’t just the nostalgic memory of simpler times. Research proves it is essential for human development. The ���������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� for individuals, as well as communities. Free play is how children learn social rules and learn when to self-inhibit. They are confronted with questions like: • When is it OK to rough house with someone and when is it not? Children in our nature play area in Russ Pitman Park will concentrate, innovate, and collaborate. They will invent play schemes that can extend over days.” • What if I think my idea is better than someone else’s? • What if someone’s little brother is getting in the way? Researchers like Dr. Jaak Panksepp, a neuroscientist, psychologist, and psychobiologist believes that we are seeing a rise in ADD and ADHD diagnoses, in part, because children don’t get the free play time they need to develop their social brains and learn to limit themselves. Panksepp even recommends, “As an alternative to the use of play-reducing psychostimulants ADD and ADHD medication, society could establish play ‘sanctuaries’ for at-risk children in order to facilitate frontal lobe maturation and the healthy development of pro-social minds.” Play is the work of children, and right now we are failing to provide the types of play experiences and length of play ���������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� must acknowledge that we have a problem and recognize the importance of free play in child development. Owen is the executive director of the Nature Discovery Center at 7112 Newcastle Dr. Page 15 WEST U ESSENTIALS


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