Feature Article - July 2009
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Nature and Nurture

Trends in Play Design

By Emily Tipping


early a third of the children in this country are either overweight or obese, and a third will suffer from diabetes at some point in their lifetime," she said. "These are children. And in the African-American and Hispanic communities, those numbers climb even higher so that nearly half—OK? —half of the children in those communities are going to suffer that fate."

She added, "This has serious consequences for the immediate and long-term health of individual children and for our national health care system. There are just too many kids that are living a life off of high-calorie food, and they're not getting enough exercise. And in order to stay healthy, children are supposed to get 60 minutes of activity every single day. Now, how many kids in your lives are doing that these days, at least 60 minutes every single day? So that's why we can't underestimate the value of having safe and quality playgrounds in every single community."

Who was the play advocate who spoke these words? First Lady Michelle Obama, speaking at a community build of a playground at San Francisco's Bret Harte Elementary School to kick off a nationwide volunteer initiative.

And Obama knows about the value of play. The White House recently saw its own first playground installed. At the volunteer build in San Francisco, she described the impact of that new play equipment: "…there's nothing like watching kids play. And my kids, they get to swing on the swings, climb on the jungle gym. They're playing—they don't even know they're getting exercise. That's the value of play, and that's what we need to get our kids to do in this community—but we have to provide them with resources to make that happen."

The Bret Harte project, which was planned with the help of national nonprofit KaBOOM!, got kids from the school and surrounding community, parents, seniors and representatives from the local Alzheimer's association together to plan a play space for all stakeholders. The spot marks KaBOOM's first fully intergenerational volunteer-build playground, and in addition to top-notch play equipment, it will feature an edible garden with a farmer's market stand, allowing kids and seniors from the community to sell veggies and raise money for the school.