I am being compensated to bring awareness to this project, but all words and opinions are my own.
Before I met my husband I never had any desire to have children. They were foreign and scary to me; energetic beyond belief and couldn’t hold an adult conversation. Looking back I realize how silly it was for me to be scared because as soon as there was a chance of motherhood for me I dove head-first into learning about children. There truly is nothing as magically sweet and endearing as watching children learn and play, figuring out on a moment-by-moment basis that the world around them is simultaneously amazingly wonderful and terrifying.
For a while now I’ve been increasingly interested in the concept of play and the physical need that we all have to be active. It’s not just about physical health, although there are obvious benefits to our bodies when we are active. It’s also about mental, emotional and neurological health as well. With the increase in technology there is a severe deficit in play, but this often neglected part of childhood is at the very least AS important as learning to read, do math, write code, etc.
Play is a critical part of childhood development, helping children to grow physically, emotionally, socially and intellectually. It aids in the development of gross motor skills, control, coordination and strength. Just as importantly, play helps kids to think creatively and forge strong connections to one another by learning to share, negotiate, resolve conflict, and develop self-advocacy skills. Basically play helps children to grow into healthy, happy, well-rounded adults.
At this point in time the deficit in play is staggering. Little more than half of students nationwide are enrolled in physical education class. More than 60% of children from ages 9 to 13 do not participate in organized physical activity during non-school hours. On average, kids are spending 7 hours per day on entertainment media – televisions, computers, phones, and other devices.
You guys, I could cite statistics but I can also tell you this: as the mother of a 3-year-old boy I can practically map out the increased development in skills based on the seasons and availability of play opportunities. Not only does time outside and access to physical creativity make him tired (yay sleep!), it provides opportunity for growth that goes beyond ABCs and 1-2-3s. It forces him to play creatively, to forge relationships with other children, and pushes his limits in a safe environment. Play has given him confidence and strength, and as he gets older I see more and more the need offer opportunities for play as often as possible during the day.
This past Wednesday I was privy to a brainstorming session with both children and parents at a local school for a new playground to increase the quality of the play experience. This new playground is build is part of Let’s Play, a nationwide initiative of Dr Pepper Snapple to get kids and families active through improving playgrounds and providing sports equipment to communities in need.
The excitement in the air was palpable, as it usually is with children, and I couldn’t help but smile as they filed into the cafeteria. Seventeen kids, ranging in age from 3 to 7 years of age, piled onto a large square of carpet and listened to Bryan McNamara – a representative with KaBoom! – read a book entitled My Dream Playground. There were gasps at the intricacies of the dream playground, an introduction to what possibilities could lie ahead for the school’s own dream playground.
After story time the kids had the opportunity to draw their own dream playground, and as the play experts they took to creating. There were slides, swings, monkey bars, ladders, sand boxes, tire swings, and even slugs as they squealed and chatted about what encompasses the dream playground. I couldn’t help but sit back and think that Wes would love participating in something like this. Play is his love language; getting outside and climbing, running, swinging, sliding make up many of the joys in his life. If he were able to design a place just for him I think he would be in heaven, and it was clear that these kids felt the same way!
After a short break a group of adults – teachers, parents, sponsor representatives, etc – met to talk about the logistics of building the playground. This process is very community-centric, requiring committees and and volunteers to work toward the common goal of creating a playable space.
The group was asked to cite the importance of play in their own lives, and one of the teachers spoke about her observation of the children under her care. She shared passionately about the fact that play, “Gives children the opportunity to create community and make friends with one another. It gives them a chance to be creative, to think out-of-the-box, to express themselves and practice imaginative play.” A fun environment naturally lends itself to teaching moments of every kind, therefore a playground is a treasure chest of opportunity for teachers to do their job in helping children learn.
Here’s the thing: when you’re a parent or teacher you’re fully invested in every aspect of learning for the children you parent and serve. It truly does take a village to care for each generation that follows, and KaBoom! does a fantastic job of emphasizing the importance of community in doing that. It isn’t just about building playgrounds or playing, but equally calls upon the resources of the community at large for every aspect of the build.
It is my honor to share about the incredible ACCESS School that this particular playground is being built at. Since 1994 it has been dedicated to serving children with disabilities. ACCESS works with children from infancy all the way through age 35 to provide a brighter future. They provide full-time education for more than 100 students daily, with additional outpatient and diagnostic services. In short they work to ensure that every student that comes to them receives the most beneficial education.
Much of their work comes through their understanding that multisensory learning is key. That means sensory and active play provide the best opportunities for the needs of this school community. Their playground has been in existence for at least 14 years, with pieces dating back to the early days of the school. With three different playgrounds needing to meet the needs of every age group of students, ACCESS will benefit greatly from having a safe and age-appropriate playground rebuild on their campus.
Over the next couple of weeks all of the committees, parents, KaBoom! representatives, and the folks at Dr Pepper Snapple will be working to garner the remaining funding, supplies and support to make this amazing build happen. Dr Pepper Snapple is working with two different organizations through their Let’s Play initiative; Kaboom! to build and improve playgrounds, and Good Sports to provide grants for sports equipment. By 2017 Dr Pepper Snapple’s Let’s Play initiative will have provided nearly 10 million children with more opportunities to play. They have committed more than $28 million since Let’s Play launched in 2011, which has impacted youth from all over North and South America.
So what’s next? Over the course of 24-48 hours in December (including prep time) there will be a brand new playground built with the help of these passionate people who care deeply about the well-being and the learning of these precious children. A community will come together to love one another well and provide a safer and better play solution to a school that desperately needs it. And I’m so thankful that I get to come along for the ride!
I’ll be following this post with an update after Build Day with tons of photos of the finished project – I can’t wait to share with you guys!