Monday, September 28, 2009

Unplug and Play

I recently received information from the Alliance for Childhood about a month-long play day campaign in the Bay Area to promote unstructured play and time in nature for children and adults. The campaign is called “Let’s Play Outside” and you can link to it here. Isn’t it sad that we are so busy we have to be reminded by an organization to set aside unstructured time to just get outside and play? Yikes! I’m glad they are promoting this campaign, and I completely support them, but I’m also very sad at the same time that it’s come to this in our busy, technology driven lives.

In 2001 my friend Jamie and I spearheaded a playground project in our neighborhood. We (along with help from many other neighbors and friends) convinced our homeowners association to tear down three unsafe, outdated structures and replace them with new ones. At the time my boys were 5 and 7 years old and still very interested in playgrounds, so I was highly invested in this project. The new parks were built with a whole crew of neighborhood volunteers, saving us over $15,000 in installation and demolition expenses, and I’m still thankful today to all who helped with the project.

Eight years later the parks still look great and are being used. (See above photo of one of them.) Every time I walk my dog by one of the parks I have to smile and think how great it was that our neighbors pulled together to make these parks a reality. My only regret is that the parks are not used often enough. More kids should be playing in them and in the surrounding fields more often.

I do have one more regret. When I see parents and caregivers talking on their cell phones instead of playing with their kids in the parks, I get irritated. And, it saddens me that thousands of babies and toddlers are being pushed in strollers every day while parents and babysitters are talking to someone else on their phones. I used to talk about the big trucks or barking dogs with my boys when they were in strollers and try to have little conversations with them about whatever we’d see on our walks. I hope there are still parents and caregivers out there doing that today.

I now have teenagers and often they like to be plugged in to music or movies or computers. It’s an almost daily conversation we have about unplugging and reducing “screen” time. I’m glad I had all those years with them before I even had a cell phone to really be present with them. I think it will be an even bigger struggle for new parents now to authentically communicate with their teens if they are regularly plugged in when their children are little.

Anyone have any other thoughts on technology and unstructured play?


  1. Your blog left me with mixed emotions. Up until 2 years ago, we managed to leave town each summer and "unplug" our lives and live at our rural family cabin. Those were our "wonder years." Not that I resent life now, but I do have to admit that I resented the need for early morning Saturday sports practices, summer teams, and all of the pressure that goes on in preparation for high school sports. College comes too soon and you just can't go back. Although we continue the tradition and did so this year - it was limited and the dynamics have now changed. Sadly - in many areas now there is just too much emphasis on being overly scheduled and overly prepared for just about everything. My youngest child continues to join me on walks at the park and several parents have come up and say how nice it is that he's willing to be out and about with me. They claim that they've lost their children to texting and myspace and facebook. I don't know why my child is still willing to be out and about with mom and dad. Maybe it's all of those lazy summers of hikes in the mountains. Who knows. Anyway - your blog took me back to some good memories......and I cant wait to see what you write when the college years begin.

  2. Hi Kerry. Love your blog too. Thanks for looking at mine ( I am especially grateful that you sent me the link on the homeschooling stats - they are awesome! Thanks so much! Keep up the good work on common sense approach to play, homework and quality of education in general!

    Tracy Stevens