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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

EDITORIAL: The Disappearance of Playgrounds and Imaginative Play


Don’t‍ get me wrong. Progress ⁣is fine; it’s fine in all its glory, with ⁢its smartphones, social media, hoverboards, ‌and whatever the latest fad is. In essence, it’s the stuff that has made our lives more comfortable or, should I say, more sedentary. Although, I can’t help but⁢ feel a pang of nostalgia, a longing ​for what seems ‍like an endangered concept – the ⁣playground.

Have ​you noticed how ⁤they’re disappearing, ⁢or worse, standing abandoned and derelict in parks only to‌ be demolished? Who’s to blame for this? Well, statistically‌ the USA has seen⁢ a reduction of 30% in playgrounds since 2007. Intensive urban development? Yes. Lawsuits over sprained ankles or skinned knees? Sure, why not? But the real monsters, the culprits⁣ that ‌have stolen these⁤ magic⁤ fields of ⁤the imagination, are the iPads.

These technological wizards have rendered the monkey bars and swing sets obsolete. Kids ​can now run wild with their thumbs while sitting in ‌one spot. Take my next-door neighbor’s kid, for example.‍ Eight years old, and⁣ he spends more time ⁤on that glitzy tablet than any form of physical play. Natural evolution maybe, but it’s also the ‍death of ⁢imaginative play.

When ⁢I⁤ was growing up right⁤ here in ⁣Schenectady,‍ every weekend was a kaleidoscope of adventures, laughter, and scraped knees. My siblings and I would play ‍pirates, astronauts, superheroes, you name it. The⁤ playground was a castle, ⁣a ‍spaceship, or a deserted island, according to our whims. Mother would⁣ laugh and say, “Brian,⁤ you ⁣have more stories from⁢ the play yard⁢ than Hans Christian Andersen!”

Indeed, I did. Because the ​playground, ladies and gentlemen, was a place of profound wisdom. It’s⁤ where I learned the importance of sharing when Tommy ⁣Jenkins⁢ wouldn’t let ⁤me have a turn on the slide.‍ It’s where I ​understood ​gravity, a concept that future engineers and astronauts comprehend ‍on that swing set. It’s where little Mary Sue Thompson taught me my first taste‌ of disappointment,​ right by the jungle gym. The ‍steer clear of girls was a ⁤lesson that took me a ⁤while, harsh as it feels now, but it’s part of growing up,‍ isn’t it?

This free form of play also fostered resilience. Once, I fell headfirst off⁢ the monkey bars, ​landed with⁣ a thud,​ dusted myself off, and climbed right back up. If it were today, I’d probably ⁤have a helicopter ⁢parent rushing over, wrapping me in cotton wool, and smacking a ​lawsuit on the city council.

And that’s⁢ another thing.‍ The lack of ⁢playgrounds means kids don’t get to make their own decisions. The freedom to move, take⁣ risks, and‍ adapt to situations is stripped away from them. In an overprotective environment where grazed elbows are seen as catastrophes and children’s‍ play is excessively curated, they lose‌ the ability to think‍ outside the box. ⁤They’re encouraged to rely on instructors, algorithms, and ‍the Wall⁤ Street Journal’s recommended ⁤snacks instead of their own judgment.

What’s more,⁤ playgrounds were vital for​ physical health. Cases⁤ of⁢ childhood obesity have tripled in ⁢the past‌ four decades. Kids today spend ⁣an average of 5-7 hours a⁣ day ‍in⁣ front of screens,⁤ leading to ⁢poor posture, increased levels of stress, and sleep disorders. ‌

Before⁤ my back started playing up in my late forties (that’s the price of a lifetime of moving⁢ and shaking, and frankly, I wouldn’t have it any other⁣ way), the playground was my training ground for a life full ​of activity. Life happens outside, not in front of a screen!

This isn’t ⁣just me rattling on. The American‍ Academy ⁢of Pediatrics agrees. Outdoor play stimulates physical activity, reduces anxiety, promotes creativity, and improves cognitive abilities. But ‌I’m a writer, not a doctor, so don’t take my word on it. Just look around you.

When I⁣ walk my dog down Central Park every day, past the hollow remains‍ of what was once a bustling ​playground, I see a generation of children who are missing out on lessons taught ‌not by clicking but ​by playing. And it⁢ irks me. A lot.

So what’s to be ‍done? Battle progress? ⁤Wage war ​against ​iPads? ‍Of course not. But we can remember the value of playgrounds and remind those growing up today ‍that life isn’t all about screens and sitting. ⁣Encourage them‌ to ⁢take a sword and slice through the air, board a ship sailing through stormy seas, or construct‌ a ⁢fortress in the​ middle of a jungle.

As the Greek philosopher Plato said, ‌”You can discover​ more about⁣ a person in an hour of play than a year of conversation.” I genuinely fear we’re at risk of‍ losing that, and for once, I⁣ hope I’m wrong.⁤ Somebody, anybody, prove me⁢ wrong.

Brian McCarthy
Brian McCarthy
I'm Brian McCarthy! At your service to offer traditionally informed perspective on today's issues. Some call it out of touch; I call it time-honored wisdom.
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