On a crisp, clear day last October, 50,000 parents and children gathered in New York’s Central Park to play. There was a drum circle and dancing, a giant game of “Simon Says,” and an adventure playground built by kids out of wood, cardboard, and fabric.
The Ultimate Block Party, organized to demonstrate the importance of play, drew five times as many participants as the organizers had expected.
With overbooked family schedules and restrictions on physical freedom, experts in child development worry that many American children are missing out on playtime. According to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, American children spend an average of 7.5 hours per day in front of a TV or computer screen.
“For a child to reach their full potential, unstructured outdoor play is essential,” says Fran Mainella, co-chair of the US Play Coalition at Clemson University. “Without the opportunity for play, decision-making, creativity, and imagination are restricted.”
The US Play Coalition, an organization of educators, is just one of many groups around the country who are working to correct America’s play deficit. Another is KaBOOM!, a nonprofit that helps parents set up neighborhood playgrounds. Their play campaign has established
1,900 playgrounds so far, often starting with community-building play day events.
Play for Tomorrow, a new coalition of educators, researchers, and businesses, organized The Ultimate Block Party in New York, and is working with other cities to host similar giant play day events throughout North America.
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