Last year I read a book that fundamentally changed the way I thought about my kids and outside play. Richard Louv's book Last Child in the Woods takes an in-depth look at the impact of nature and outside play on children, and how the time and manner in which children are outside has changed over the years. It was a fascinating read.
I feel like I've always been pretty good at getting my kids outside. We're not a deep woods, hiking, spend-a-week living in a tent kind of family, but we've been known to hit a trail or stomp in a creek. No, the importance of the nature stuff I was already aware of.
My lightbulb moment came when Louv described the typical playspaces in the United States today.
- They are ultra-safe. Not that safe playgrounds are a bad thing, per se (anyone here ever get launched off a merry-go-round at high speed?). But too often safe = boring.
- Many newer play spaces are actually just land developed for organized sports. Have you ever been excited to see a new park open up in town, only to realize it's a lone slide and some monkey bars surrounded by baseball and soccer fields?
- They're pretty much all the same. You've seen one slide/stairs/firepole combo, you've seen them all. So have your kids, and they're not impressed.
This isn't to say that these kinds of playspaces are bad. There are many places in this country where any kind of dedicated playspace would be a blessing, places where there are either play deserts or unsafe playspaces.
This isn't the problem in suburban Indianapolis, though. There are resources, and parks, aplenty. Since reading Louv's book, my goal has been to seek out parks and playgrounds that are different and innovative. My goal has been to get my kids excited about going to the playground again, and to see them play and stretch their imaginations in these different kinds of spaces.
As fun as it is to discover these places, it's even more fun to be able to share them. That's why I'm so excited about teaming up with KaBOOM! in their Park-a-Day Summer Challenge. The fun people at KaBOOM! came up with the challenge as a way to provide families with a cost-effective method to have their kids enjoy a summer of play, while at the same time providing valuable updates to KaBOOM!'s Map of Play.
Our goal this summer is to visit at least one innovative playground or park in the Indianapolis area each week. That's the beauty of the Challenge – you don't really have to go to a park every day (although I'm sure my kids wouldn't complain). Just visit as many parks and playgrounds as you can within your normal schedule and then add and/or review the playspace on KaBOOM's Map of Play. It's a win-win for everyone: the kids have a blast, and you're helping to build and update a valuable resource for families everywhere.
I'll be posting my pictures to Flickr and documenting our experiences in the Park-a-Day Challenge Discussion Group. At the end of the summer I'll post our Top 5 Indy Playgrounds that won't make your kids yawn. I hope you'll consider jumping in on the challenge as well! More information, including how you can sign up for the Park-a-Day Challenge is available on the KaBOOM! website.
What is your favorite park or playground in your area, and why do you (or your kids) love it? If it's in Indy, we'll add it to our list of playgrounds to visit!
Disclosure: This is strictly a volunteer opportunity with KaBOOM! that I've chosen to participate in and support. All thoughts and opinions are my own, and I am not being compensated by KaBOOM! for my participation.