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Author Archives: Greg Harrison

  • Debating the necessity of childhood: why questioning recess is ludicrous

    For starters, it’s pretty absurd that I’m actually writing a post on why recess is necessary. Isn’t it obvious that it’s necessary? Turns out, it’s not. 40 percent of school districts in the US have reduced recess time and nearly 7 percent of school districts have eliminated recess altogether.

    As someone who makes an effort to incorporate playfulness into my own workday routine, I am very concerned about the unwarranted squeeze on recess. The thought of little kids, who should be tearing through the playground, spending all day at school being chained to a desk is scary.

    When are folks going to realize that recess offers much more than a chance for kids to work up a sweat? It benefits every aspect of childhood development and leads to better behavior and grades. So the fact that it’s being taken away from children as a punishment for bad behavior or to increase focus on academics is mind-boggling.

    Recess is the one time a day when kids go outside and are able to choose what they do. It is important for kids and big kids alike to take breaks and do things that someone else isn’t telling us to do. Do you remember the math class or homework from seventh grade? Probably not. But you’re much more likely to have fond memories of the made-up game that you and friends played for days together on the playground.

    Kids have big imaginations and we need to give them the space to utilize it! Demanding that they move less and sit more is counterproductive. Research, and our own common sense, tells us that we should be doing the opposite.

    Does your child get enough recess?

  • What kids need from adults?

    You might think kids today have it good – endless amounts of information at their fingertips, devices to occupy their time, emojis so they can talk in code to their friends and almost no one has to walk to school anymore.

    But you know what I think? Being a kid today is hard. Think about it. Most kids and teenagers have boatloads of homework, but before they can tackle that work, they have to take a music lesson and go to soccer practice. Some kids even have scheduled play dates. But what about just letting loose and having time for free play? That, my friends, is why being a kid today is hard. There is too little time to relax and be carefree – and really important aspects of development happen when adults back off and let kids explore through unstructured play.

    Honestly, every time I speak to an adult about early child development and developing all sorts of skills, I’m left thoroughly confused. Folks want their kids to be quick learners but don’t want them to spend time doing stuff (read: playing) that might actually benefit them. The general thinking is that play and learning are two separate things, which, in my mind, is nothing short of crazy. Or, as I believe the kids are saying, cray cray.

    For me, the issue of play is serious and this conversation with Erika Christakis struck a chord.

    Her new book, The Importance of Being Little, is a plea for adults - educators and parents alike -  to forgo the mind numbing flashcards, old school worksheets and teaching Mandarin to preschoolers in favor of good old-fashioned play (um, when did play become old-fashioned and can we please change this?).

    Christakis writes, "the distinction between early education and official school seems to be disappearing."

    Why can’t more people get on this page and forget the widely accepted norms? I often wonder why we’re complicating things so much when the answer’s really quite simple. Let your kids play!

    What kids really need right now is for adults to start acting. We need to stop forcing them into so called “meaningful” activities when all they really need to (and want to) do is to play in the mud or roll in the grass. Want to explain the theory of gravity? Don’t just have them read about it in a musty textbook. Go to the playground and have them drop several objects from different heights of playground structures. Above all, make sure you work towards creating relevant and rich play experiences that foster a sense of security and emotional well-being among your kids.

    Stop looking at play as an option; make play a priority!

  • Play like a champ: making every Sunday ‘super’

    On Sunday, the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos will go head to head in Super Bowl 50.

    Super Bowl Sunday is no doubt an awesome day to hangout with friends, crack open a drink and snack on wings and hoagies. But I think Sundays in general are an ideal time for sneaking in some much needed play.

    Even the NFL agrees. The organization runs NFL PLAY 60, a campaign designed to tackle childhood obesity by getting kids active through in-school, after-school and team-based programs and partnerships with like-minded associations.

    So how can you make this and every Sunday super? Aim for play!

    Weather or not
    Sort of like the US Postal Service, neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night, should keep us from playing. Commit to making Sunday a play day regardless of the weather or season.

    Dress for adventure
    Instead of sporting your “Sunday best”, opt for sweats or other casual clothes. Head outside with the family and see what happens. Make mud puddles your friend.

    Who’s the boss?
    Let the kids decide how they want to spend their time outside. Start shifting away from adult-dictated and supervised play to kid-directed free play. As a dad, I’ve seen many positive changes when I empower my boys.

    How do you ensure playtime for your family on the weekends?

  • Playground trends to watch out for in 2016

    Do you remember being a kid, tearing through the neighborhood with your friends for hours? If you were anything like me, afternoons were spent at the playground, riding bikes and maybe a quick pick-up game. But things have really changed when it comes to children’s freedom to explore and play. If you were to fall asleep on a playground in the ‘70s and wake up in 2016, you’d probably have a tough time guessing what happened to the carefree, playful vibe.

    I’m an optimist and think we can get back to a place where kids can play with their friends and learn about the world around them in an organic, fun manner. I also look at my peers and think a lot of adults would benefit from letting loose and absorbing the advantages of play.

    So, what might a playground or free play look like in 2026? It’s hard to predict what anything will look like a decade from now but I am starting to see a positive shift.

    Check out my take on play trends and predictions for 2016:

    Adult playgrounds
    Gymtimidation. That funky odor. There are lots of reasons that keep people from hitting the gym. Getting a great workout doesn’t need to happen within the walls of a fitness facility. I’m much more motivated to get my workout outside and know I’m not the only one who likes a little fresh air. In fact, playgrounds for adults are being planned in several states across the country. You might want to reconsider your gym membership and head to a park instead. I’m not sure the schoolyard monkey bars were this tough.

    Pocket parks
    Do you know that cities nationwide are working towards creating family-friendly, kid-friendly environments that promote play everywhere? They’re doing this by building pocket parks – transforming unused corners and roads into hubs of recreation.

    Free-range parenting
    Step away from your child. A lot of people are beginning to realize that it’s ok not to hold their child’s hand all day. More parents are embracing free-range parenting, the concept of raising children in the spirit of encouraging them to function independently in accordance of their age.

    Forest-kindergartens
    I recently read an article on Swiss Waldkindergartens, forest kindergartens, where children spend all day playing outdoors, regardless of weather. The Swiss don’t begin studying math or literacy until the first grade and are using this first year of school to focus on the social interaction and emotional well-being found in free play. I dream that we’ll embrace this type of thinking here in the States sometime soon. To combat the development issues facing our kids, parents should embrace the idea of an unconventional learning system.

    Return of recess
    This trend has my Playworld team jazzed. I was an energetic kid – a trait I passed down to my own sons – and I have a hard time picturing any one of us chained to a desk all day. I truly believe recess is critical for children. The absence of recess in American schools has been a trend for the past several years. But things are looking up. New Jersey’s Senate and Assembly have unanimously passed a legislation that would require a 20-minute daily recess for all students in kindergarten through fifth grade. I’m hopeful that other states across the country will follow suit.

    What play-related trends have you excited?

  • Play ought to be challenging

    A recent Washington Post article on rethinking “ultra-safe” playgrounds caught my eye. Featuring the insight of pediatric occupational therapist and play advocate, Angela Honscam, the article echoes the Playworld team’s belief that play equipment must be ‘thrill-provoking’.

    Outdoor unstructured play is meant to be fun and liberating. It plays an important role in fostering creativity and building on motor and sensory skills. However, this holds true only if play is stimulating.

    The modern day playground, as Honscam writes, is colorful but lacks the “thrill” element. There is a lack of age-appropriate equipment and more often than not, children are bored because they don’t see a challenge. Playgrounds such as this can be counter-productive. They inhibit creativity and deprive children of adequate sensory input. This is particularly alarming because it can result in poor motor and sensory skills, poor attention span and other physical issues.

    Much has been written about the importance of play. The perception of it being a frivolous concept is slowly changing. Yet, as people embrace the world of play and decide to build a play space, the emphasis should be on creating an atmosphere that fuels imagination and offers enough of a challenge for children of all ages.

    Is your playground challenging enough?

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