Tinkering Outside

May 26, 2010 at 3:54 pm 1 comment

On Tuesday, First Lady Michelle Obama officially kicked-off the White House Summer Exercise Series.  Eighty-four local children hopped, skipped, and jumped with the First Lady on the South Lawn as part of her Let’s Move campaign.

Let’s Move! has an ambitious but important goal: to solve the epidemic of childhood obesity within a generation. [This initiative] will give parents the support they need, provide healthier food in schools, help our kids to be more physically active, and make healthy, affordable food available in every part of our country.

I wonder if FLOTUS was aware of—and if so, whether she endorsed—”Take Our Children to the Park… And Leave Them There Day.” Spearheaded by Lenore Skenazy, author of Free-Range Kids, May 22 (this past Saturday) was promoted as an opportunity to help our children reclaim the childhood most of us fondly remember (though have sanitized and stripped away from them):

The crime rate in America is back to where it was in the early ’70s. Crime was going up then, and it peaked around 20 years later. By the mid ’90s it was coming down and continues to do so.  So the strange fact — very hard to digest — is that if YOU were playing outside in the ’70s or ’80s, your kids today are safer than you were! I know it doesn’t feel that way. In fact, here’s an interesting poll about how the majority of people feel crime is going up when actually its going down. But anyway, the point is:

Most of us used to play outside in the park, without our parents, without cell phones, without Purell or bottled water and we survived! Thrived! We cherish the memories! And if you believe the million studies that I’m always publishing here, kids are healthier, happier and better-adjusted if they get to spend some time each day in “free play,” without adults hovering.

I know there will be shrill voices insisting, “Predators are gonna love this holiday!” but keep a level head. Crime is down. Awareness is up. There is safety in numbers, which means getting kids outside again, together. This won’t happen until we actually start DOING IT.

So spread the word and be not afraid. Free-Range Kids never says there is no risk in the world, only that the risk is small and worth taking, as it always has been. The trade-off is kids who make up games, who solve problems, who discover nature and get moving (to coin a phrase). Kids who don’t need a screen to entertain them. Playing outside, on their own, is what kids all over the world do. We have forgotten how vital and wonderful it is.

Walk around your neighborhood. Do you see empty sidewalks? Empty yards? Empty playgrounds? It’s a waste — of childhood.

My thought on Leave Your Child at the Park Day is simply to make it more than an annual exercise — let children run outside, scrape their knees, and indulge in exuberant, sometimes reckless, free-play every single day. But why let children have all the fun? This coming weekend, or after work or school during the week, try and honor the makeshift “Take MYSELF to the Park and Leave Me There Day.” We could all use some smiles and sunshine.

Finally, this theme of engaging in outdoor and hands-on play reminds me of a great program called Tinkering School, which provides kids with a collaborative and safe environment to build things—as well as a safe place to fail, one of the most important aspects in the cultivation of creativity. In his short but motivating 10-minute TED talk, Gever Tulley, the founder of Tinkering School, explains the benefits of doing “5 Dangerous Things.”

See you outside!


Entry filed under: play. Tags: , , , , , .

Blame the teachers’ unions? We are purpose maximizers

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Josh  |  May 27, 2010 at 4:53 pm

    that’s fantastic, JR…I love that message.


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Jason R. Atwood

I'm an avid trail runner and doctoral student at U.C. Berkeley who studies motivation and the relationship between the mind and body. This blog is a forum to share research, news, and musings about these topics of interest. More

Play is the beginning of knowledge.

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