Unsafe for Play?

Unsafe for Play?
Washington Post Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Banning Swings Child safety is one thing, but Americans have become so intent on eliminating every possible danger for their kids that they are stripping playgrounds of fun and encouraging inactivity and obesity. So claims Susan Solomon, author of "American Playgrounds: Revitalizing Community Space," who addressed a gathering of children's advocates, park planners, safety experts, playground manufacturers, psychologists and educators in Washington last week.
To avoid lawsuits, she said, public schools from Portland, Ore., to Broward County, Fla., are ridding playgrounds of swings, monkey bars, tube slides and seesaws. Some have even banned the game of tag and posted "no running" signs on playgrounds. Solomon spoke at a "Value of Play" conference sponsored by Common Good and the American Enterprise Institute-Brookings Joint Center for Regulatory Studies.

Is there science linking outdoor play and prevention of child obesity? Nazrat Mirza, attending pediatrician at Children's National Medical Center, said findings are mixed, but children who are always indoors tend to be more sedentary and are more likely to be overweight. She knew of no studies suggesting that playground design or equipment affects kids' weight.

"As long as the kids are moving . . . they are less likely to be overweight," Mirza said.

Some early childhood development research has found that unstructured play is especially good for emotional and cognitive development in children, she added, but none of those studies evaluated various types of playground design.

What Can Parents Do? Child experts at the forum urged parents to:
· Be willing to accept some degree of risk for their children.
· Fight efforts to remove swings, slides and climbing equipment from playgrounds.
· Work with school districts, nursery schools and parks to increase the number of play areas with natural materials and unfenced areas that allow children to use their imaginations when they play. "Parents should demand accountability from schools," said Anthony Pellegrini, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Minnesota.

-- Elizabeth Agnvall

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