Web Exclusive - January 2013
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Inclusive Play Stands Out

By Jessica Royer Ocken

It's not just adults who are extra busy and often over-scheduled these days. Our society's push for success and desire to keep everyone safe (and avoid lawsuits) means more and more kids have lots of organized activities and less time to just, well, play. Several of the experts we spoke with for our feature story on inclusive play weighed in on why this is a problem and their hopes for the future of fun:

Dave Flannigan, KaBOOM! Director of Operations for Program Management: Play is a right, not a luxury. As academics become most important, recess and play are put on the back burner, even though countless studies show how play is a critical part of development, from cognitive and physical to social and emotional. There are also social factors limiting play: helicopter parents and broader concern about crime. But we've talked to several people who say that the ability to critically think and problem-solve among kids coming out of college is not what it used to be. There may not be a direct correlation to less play, but there are potentially some linkages—less play means less time for socializing and problem-solving. Those focused only on academics have fewer valuable skills of negotiation. That has a lasting impact.

Tiffany Harris, Co-Founder and CEO, Shane's Inspiration: We've moved all the way to preschool academics. So many scientific studies call for play for social and academic reasons, but our culture is negating the scientific studies. I only hope we can move back in that direction. It's so important to children. Play advocates need to stand and raise their voices.

Mara Kaplan, Founder of Let Kids Play!: Schools look for high test scores, so they eliminate PE and recess. But kids need PE to get high test scores. It's a hard argument because people don't see the direct correlation. Everyone says schedule kids to give them all the opportunities—dance, soccer, classes—but that leaves no time for free play. And especially when kids are younger, those activities tend to be adult-driven. Kids younger than 5 or 6 are not ready to be in those activities. Just go play! And the situation is certainly worse for children who have disabilities. They have to be in structured activities and in therapies that take time. Starting at age 3, most kids with disabilities start going to school full-time.