Wednesday, October 13, 2010

'Playing outside has many benefits'

I've a piece in today's Canberra Times, 'Playing outside has many benefits' (13/10/10), p.19.

Elaborating on my earlier blog on kids and the great outdoors, I'm trying to identify the virtues of outdoor play, particularly in parks and gardens. A sample:
In parks and gardens, we’re simultaneously offered amusement, education, sport and health – like visiting a cinema, school, arena and doctor all at once.
This highlights a number of priorities for parents and planners. Most obviously for parents, it’s a kick in the bum to get off the computer, and out into the daylight. We ought to exemplify the very things we want our kids doing – we can’t watch television for hours every night, and expect our kids to magically discover wilderness through Foxtel. And they’ll often play more, and with more enthusiasm, if we play along. It encourages parents to garden, build sandcastles, make bows and arrows, and generally muck about – it affirms close relationships.
But all this is limited if planners and politicians don’t come to the picnic. For example, we need cities where walking is encouraged. It accustoms us to al fresco life, rather than vacuum-sealed transport to and from the great indoors.
We cannot stop designers and builders designed huge, fence-to-fence houses, without yards – but governments could certainly offer more incentives for architectural foresight. Ditto for schools, kindergartens and child care centres, where access to gardens or natural play areas varies widely between suburbs and states.
We also need well-maintained public parks – in urban and poorer areas, not just the leafy, rich suburbs. Not everyone can afford the half-acre plot, with recycled and rain water, tended by the team of landscapers. In fact, many families don’t have a yard at all – by necessity, not choice. Well-planted, shaded and safe public parks cannot overturn inequality, but they can alleviate it.

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