Importance of Playgrounds

Another guest post by Christine Whitaker that was first published in L.A. Family Magazine.

Did you know that 60% of children in the United States don’t live within walking distance to a playground?  That’s why Emmy-nominated actress Marcia Cross (who plays Bree Hodge on ABC’s Desperate Housewives and is the mother of twin girls) hefted a hammer to help build a new Kaboom-sponsored playground at the Le Roy Haynes Center in La Verne, California on July 9th.

“Summer is a great time to go outside and play” Cross effused, “and yet not enough children have access to playgrounds.”  As a child, Cross remembers spending nearly every waking hour outdoors — mastering the monkey bars, riding a bike or tromping through the woods.   She believes these early experiences in nature fostered an independence and mastery of skills that gave her the confidence to surmount any challenge she faced later in life.

Yet, play is on the decline throughout America.  The temptations of television, computers and video games provide a partial explanation, but the real issue is a lack of access and opportunity to play.   Physical education classes have been reduced or outright eliminated in our schools thanks to recent federal and state budget cutbacks and not enough children can easily get to safe, reasonably maintained neighborhood play spaces.  The problem is particularly acute in Los Angeles where there are fewer acres of parks per resident than in any other major US city, and where there is an enormous disparity of access between the poor and the affluent.

The health implications of this trend are profound.  Studies have linked a decline in play to an increased risk of childhood obesity, Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, general anxiety disorders, depression, as well as stunted social, cognitive and creative development.   In Los Angeles, the statistics are shocking.  Fully 87% of the children in LAUSD schools are not physically fit and some forty LAUSD schools did not have a single physically fit student in the most recent survey.

So, what’s a concerned Angelino to do?   Thankfully, organizations like The City Project, a Los Angeles-based non-profit working to build a new green urban movement and Kaboom, a national non-profit dedicated to saving play for children, provide insight and empowerment.  Kaboom provides tools such as ‘do-it-yourself playgrounds,’ which include plans for side projects, advice on surfacing materials, tips for fundraising, ideas for recruiting volunteers, and overall guidance on how to take your project from start to finish.   The City Project uses in-depth research, coalition building, media, policy and legal advocacy to produce reforms that broaden access to parks and help ensure that students get ample physical activity.   Both organizations blog regularly about new developments concerning healthy parks, schools and communities, so to learn more about how you can help visit www.cityprojectca.org or www.kaboom.org.

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