Play is in peril

Play Is in Peril
Saving Unstructured Outdoor Play

By Ian Proud

Recreation Management


Outdoor play is in peril. The sad reality is that unstructured outdoor play is not happening today the way it did decades ago. In fact, today's kids get 50 percent less unstructured outdoor playtime than kids of the 1970s, according to The Alliance for Childhood, a nonprofit advocacy group. Our lives are over-scheduled, so free time, for both children and adults, is sparse. We are hyper-competitive and dictated by security concerns. Video games and electronic devices vie for children's time, and all the while, parents are dealing with the demands of balancing work and home life.

We must put unstructured outdoor play back into our daily lives or else there will be negative repercussions for future generations. To save outdoor play, we must make it meaningful and relevant to how we live today. We can do that by reinventing the outdoor experience. That includes reinventing classic playground equipment, building equipment that challenges everyone at their level and incorporating interactivity into the playground.

Individuals not closely linked to our industry may wonder why outdoor play matters. Research supports the benefits of outdoor unstructured play. In fact, the lack of outdoor play opportunities hinders childhood development. In Free to Learn, developmental psychologist Peter Gray argues that children who are free to pursue their own interests through play will not only learn all they need to know, but will do so with energy and passion.

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