Go out and play

Barb Sweet
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Province looking for marketing campaign to encourage child’s play

Children at Cowan Heights Elementary School in St. John’s enjoy free play time on the school’s playground recently. — Photo by Gary Hebbard/The Telegram

A request for proposals by the province may seem like child’s play, but experts say children need to be encouraged to do just that — play.

The Department of Education is seeking proposals for a marketing campaign to promote the importance of play in young children’s development.

The campaign would target kids, their parents and families and professionals, as well as post-secondary institutions offering early childhood education.

Education Minister Clyde Jackman said in an email statement about the request for proposals that children learn through play “and while that may seem like a very simple concept, there are parents, caregivers, and even people who work each day with very young children who don’t really understand this.

“It is also how children develop their creativity and imagination, along with important social skills,” he said.

“The Department of Education wants to highlight and promote the importance of play-based learning as an approach which capitalizes on a child’s natural curiosity for knowledge. We want to help parents identify activities they can do with their children to support their learning and development. Research shows that it is through play that children learn about themselves, each other and the world in which they live.”

Dr. Sandra Luscombe, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association and a developmental pediatrician at the Janeway, said there has been so much emphasis on structured programs for children in recent decades, there needs to be a reminder about the importance of just playing.

“I applaud the government for looking at this closer,” Luscombe said when contacted by The Telegram about the request for proposals.

There are two extremes, Luscombe said — the children who spend all their time playing video games and using the computer at the expense of a healthy lifestyle, and the those who are placed in too many organized activities (sports, music, dance and other classes).

Spontaneous play not only keeps kids active, but it also teaches them to develop their own socialization and decision-making skills, she said.

Jill Brewer, director of recreation for St. John’s, recently attended a national recreation summit, at which the concensus was children are being failed because they are becoming more obese and less active.

There are many contributing factors to the problem, but one of them is that play has been taken away from children in favour of organized activities.

The trend of the baby boomer age, said Brewer, has been to cap kids’ free-range movement and place them in a bubble, not even allowing them to get muddy.

“We’ve been getting rid of any moment of risk,” Brewer said.

Free play and problem-solving allows them to handle the things in life that are thrown at them later.

Though organized activities are still important and there needs to be a balance, the city has already recognized the need to create neighbourhood places for kids to gather like skateboard parks and trail systems.

In the skateboard parks, Brewer said, kids have set their own rules, which work well.

“We need to keep encouraging free play,” she said, instead of overprogramming kids and having adults make all their decisions and taking the fun out of play.


Organizations: Department of Education, Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association

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Recent comments

  • Joseph McGrath
    November 16, 2011 - 04:54

    The government rides to the resue with our free flowing tax dollars once more.If kids do not get out and play it is not government's job to try to force them to do so.It is the "PARENT'S JOB" to ensure their kids get proper exercise nd exposure to the healthy outdoors.Minister Jackman is another horse's ass talking about something which is none of his business and about which he knows absolutely nothing.We have a wonderful number of outdoor recreation facilites for kids and parents have the responsibity to see that kids use them.My suggeestion to Mr.Jackman et al is to get a life,operate in the real world and look after the many serious issues facing NL.I am utterly fed up with politicans who jump on a cause because they are afraid to tell parents etc. to do their job.What a smuck.I guess we can expect a few Memorial profs to cherb in on this matter and line their pockets with grant money to study this so called problem.The ability to adress wasteful non productive issues like this is the hallmark of this present administration.A pox on all of them.

  • Krista
    November 15, 2011 - 17:35

    I think that this is amazing. The Department of Education would like children to be more active but are unwilling to fund desperately needed playgrounds. The parents at our school had to work hard to fundraise to put adequate equipment onsite.

  • Peter
    November 15, 2011 - 15:38

    Funny that Jill Brewer would talk about the need for a lack of structure when teh City of St Johns has so many rules and regulations regarding play. She even had to take over St Johns Minor Soccer Association to ensure "control"..Funny how her kids are "soccer ids" and this the sport she sought to have the most control over. Look after your own house first Ms Brewer before you preach to the rest of the taxpayers who have been fighting with you for less structure for a long time...Maybe a good start would be for teh City's recreation department to reduce the nearly 400 person work force they have and put some money into upgrading to some decent facilties....

  • mary
    November 15, 2011 - 14:13

    "The trend of the baby boomer age, said Brewer, has been to cap kids’ free-range movement and place them in a bubble, not even allowing them to get muddy." The baby boomers I know sent their kids outdoors to play. It is the grandkids of these boomers who are not playing outdoors.

  • Henry
    November 15, 2011 - 11:03

    Excellent idea. There are to many little johhny's out there that play team hockey 2-3 times a week and then the parants have them in several hockey camps, which means that in a lot of these cases 5 of the 7 days in a week the kid has a set schedule and no play time.

  • Paula
    November 15, 2011 - 08:38

    I grew up in the 70's and something we did as kids, which I never see anymore, is "skipping" and "hula hoops". Every year we would all get skipping ropes (short and long) in our Easter Baskets and all of the kids on our street gathered in front of our house and played "skipping". We had competitions and sang skipping songs and I can still remember some of the songs and games that we played. It was the best exercise ever!!! "Hula hoops" were also a blast! The ones made fromthe soft plastic worked best. Not only were they very light weight, but If you broke them, it didn't cost much to replace them. I think an hour of skipping and/or hula hoops a day, can certainly keep the doctors away.

  • Anna
    November 15, 2011 - 08:20

    Good luck with that, on my daily walk, I pass at least three playgrounds and there is never a soul there. Parents today think they have to have their children in organized activities, like bragging rights, they are in dance, gym, rock climbing etc and it all costs money. My dogs get more exercise than most children as parents are afraid to let them out of their sight. Drive by any school, the parents won't even let them walk from the sidewalk, if they could drive them to the classroom they would.

  • Gail
    November 15, 2011 - 08:12

    I totally agree that children do not get to play among themselves enough, and make their own decisions. The children need to get outside, run, play, laugh and share. Embrace the cold as well as the warmm Oh I am afraid she or he will be cold, they may fall and skin a knee or hand. They learn from their experiences. A game of hide and seek, a game of skipping rope, a game of marbles. A fall, a skinned knee builds character - it was sometime to show my friends to confirm how tough I am. Kids today are pampered too too much. They are protected from just about everything - they wll be out in the real world one day without mom and dad - what will happen then?

  • W BAgg
    November 15, 2011 - 08:12

    I have a theory: In general, people wait longer to have children and settle down, plus both parents now have to work to support a family in today’s economy. I grew up in a one income family in a subdivision where most houses on my street had owners/parents who were the same age, and all had kids that were similar ages. It was easy to find kids to play with, and the neighborhood was safer, less traffic, less speeding, no teenagers had access to cars (or the ability to text and drive) and generally less crime. Which is what we need to have play based socialization with kids. We need to provide the opportunity. Now, these neighborhoods do not exist, people wait longer to settle down, neighborhoods are diverse. For example, I’m late thirties, with 2 pre-school children, living in an older neighborhood, the street routinely sees cars going up it at around 60-70 km/hr (in a 30 zone), on my section of block, there are 2 retired families, 3 younger ones similar to mine, 3 rentals, one of which there is drug dealing going on. I wouldn’t let my kids out (when they get school age) in that area ever. The newer subdivisions are the same.