A few weeks ago, I had an opportunity to attend the Charlotte Mason Conference at Gardner Webb University. One of the guest speakers there was a member of the US Play Coalition: Value of Play which is a partnership of organizations that promote the value of play throughout life and is located at Clemson University. Say what you will about the Tigers, but those people know how to have fun. The Coalition was established in 2009 in an effort to stem the inactive, sedentary tide that is pounding against the shores of our nation’s children.
What exactly is the heart behind the US Play Coalition? Dr. Joe Frost describes it like this, “”The consequences of play deprivation are profound — a growing crisis that threatens children’s health, fitness, and development. As free, outdoor play declines, fitness levels decline, waistlines expand, and a host of health problems follow, including obesity, heart disease, rickets, and a spiraling upturn in emotional and social disorders. The solutions are complex and require massive, coordinated action.”
At a cursory glance, you may think to yourself that this is yet another galactic misuse of tax dollars. But, here are some staggering national statistics that they shared with us during their seminar.
*Today kids spend 6.5 hours in front of a screen daily.( almost as long as they are in school) That’s TV, computer, and cell phones.
*40% of school kids are at risk of cardiac risk.
*Less than 25% of school children have access to daily physical activity.
*20% of children were obese in 2004 compared to the 4% in 1960
* in 2010 85% of children are on the verge of obesity
*this is the first generation of children that may not live as long as their parents
*the two main reasons for lack of outdoor play….stranger danger and over scheduling. We are over scheduling our children to death.
You do not have to be a mom to see that children are becoming way too inert and over scheduled. To see that they have very little time outdoors for unstructured, imaginative play, you merely need to be an observer. Just last week, I was telling two of my friends who are in their mid 20’s about one of my children trying to learn how to roller blade. One young lady said incredulously, “You mean kids still roller blade?!” To which my other friend said astounded, “You mean, kids still play outside!?”
Though I try to not over schedule my children, i am not immune to its wooing. It is something i struggle with as a mom and as a woman on a daily basis because i am a comparison addict. I also live in a city with TONS of options for our time. I constantly look around at others thinking what they are doing for themselves and their children is better than what we are doing. It does not even matter what it is as i get sucked up in the philosophy that ‘more is always better.’
I know it is an insecure, sinful heart that drives me to compare. My husband always tells me that there is no joy in comparison. To which, i say, “There is a hole in your thinking because it really depends on which side of the comparison you fall.” But deep down, i know that it does not bring life. It only brings death to my soul and spirit as i frantically try to keep up with the ‘jones’.’
Which is why, I really appreciated listening to this lecture on the Value of Play, specifically unstructured play. I loved hearing that slowing down from a ragged pace was good for the essence of my family. I relished being affirmed in the benefit of kicking my girls outside with their friends to just play. It’s a good thing for them to enjoy time to be creative and imaginative.
And I feel that it is important for as all, children and adults alike to hear that resting and playing is not a waste of our time. For some of us, it has been a long time since we just laughed and played without an agenda. We may have forgotten how to do so. And sadly, some of us really never learned how to play without the use of a screen and buttons. But it’s not too late. It is never to late to unplug yourself or your children and get outside with some friends for a walk or a bike ride, a game of four square or hopscotch, or a trip to the park.
Hopefully we all in time will experience the value of play, friendship, family, and laughter.