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Saving Outdoor Play: 10 New Year's Resolutions for Parents

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In many ways, it's been a good year for those of us who are passionate about outdoor play. As my organization KaBOOM! continues to fight against our country's play deficit, our first challenge is convincing people that such a deficit exists. This past year just may have marked a turning point. Here are some highlights:
  • Childhood obesity has become part of our national conversation--thanks in large part to the First Lady's Let's Move initiative and the recent passing of the child nutrition bill.
  • A study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which found that only one in five homes has a park within a half-mile, suggested that "access to parks, playgrounds, and recreation centers may lead to other healthy lifestyle choices, such as using modes of active transportation--like biking or walking to a park location."
  • The Kaiser Family Foundation found that the daily screen time for children ages 8-18 hovers around 7.5 hours per day. A documentary released this year, Play Again, investigated the consequences of increased screen time and the parallel nature deficit by unplugging six teenagers and bringing them on a wilderness adventure.
  • The Free Range Kids movement continued to pick up steam, celebrating the first-ever "Take Your Children to the Park... and Leave Them There Day" on May 22.
  • Imagination Playground opened in New York City, part of an emerging movement that promotes more creative, child-directed play on the playground.
  • Over 50,000 people gathered in New York's Central Park to celebrate the first "Ultimate Block Party" and promote the transformative power of play.
  • New research suggested that play is vital to a child's academic experience, and that regular recess, fitness or nature time can influence behavior and academic performance. A study in Pediatrics showing a positive correlation between recess and classroom behavior has sparked a national dialogue about the wisdom (or lack thereof) of sacrificing recess for more classroom time.
  • The new documentary Race to Nowhere has been screened in schools across the country, pushing parents, teachers, and policymakers to consider limiting homework, tests, and scheduled activities and to allow more time for play.

Are you one of the many parents who recognizes the vital importance of play in your children's lives? Do you worry about raising your child in a country with an ever-widening play deficit? It is within your power to turn the tide. Here are 10 New Year's resolutions you can make for 2011:
  1. Limit your children's screen time and set an example by limiting your own.
  2. Allow your children at least one hour of unstructured outdoor play per day, rain or shine.
  3. Explore nature with your children regularly, whether in an urban park, a national park, or your own backyard.
  4. Teach your children those classic outdoor games that you played when you were a kid.
  5. Step back now and then to allow your children to direct their own course of play and come up with games of their own.
  6. Let your children go sledding, climb trees, and jump off swings. Exercise common sense while allowing your children the freedom to take risks.
  7. Let your children build things, whether with tools, loose parts, or sand.
  8. Speak up when you see forces that are inhibiting free play, whether they are school administrators limiting recess time or city officials closing parks. Participate in discussions on legislation and policy at national and local levels.
  9. Map the state of play in your community and rally around your local playgrounds by using them, caring for them, improving them, and inspiring other parents to do the same.
  10. Encourage physical activity in your family by walking and biking whenever possible instead of taking the car.
What would you add to the list?

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