Hearing, ‘I’m bored?’ Inspire free play during summer

July 25, 2019

It’s that time of the year when the novelty of summer starts to wear off and complaints of boredom set in. Fear not: All you need to make it through the dog days are a few basic tools that are easy to find and inexpensive to own.

Pat Rumbaugh, executive director of the nonprofit Let’s Play America and a former physical education teacher, said she has seen a decline in unorganized free play in recent years.

A 2018 study by toymaker Melissa and Doug and Gallup found that children spend an average of 18.6 hours of their free time engaged in screen-based play per week and 14.6 hours on indoor screen-free play. An average of 10.6 hours are spent on outdoor play.

A survey from the Center for Education Policy at the George Washington University found that in the last 20 years, 20% of schools surveyed across 349 school districts reduced recess time by an average of 50 minutes per week.

Meanwhile, research from experts points to play as essential for promoting educational, physical, social and emotional development in children. Harvard’s Graduate School of Education reports play teaches children how to solve problems and handle risk; it also fosters creative thinking and storytelling.

“[Play] gives them choices; it gives them a chance to play with children of all ages and even adults. It gives them a chance to say, ‘You know, I’ve never played that before; I’m going to try this,’” Rumbaugh said.

“There is definitely a need … in fun, free, unorganized play — not just for children, but for people of all ages.”

To help inspire kids to engage in play, Rumbaugh suggests keeping a box (a leftover shoe box or cardboard box does the trick) next to the front door and stocking it with bubbles, sidewalk chalk, a ball and other small items that are easy to find in most grocery and drugstores. A hula hoop is also a must, as kids always find a way to use it beyond its intended purpose. Then, when it’s time to play, they can grab the box and head outside with a number of options at the ready.

On rainy days, Rumbaugh said a stack of old sheets for fort-building goes a long way; so does a pack of cards. If you, or your kids, need a little inspiration, the internet is your friend: Plenty of blogs and organizations offer resources and ideas for games and activities.

“But besides the computer there are experts out there, and do you know who they are? Grandparents, older neighbors, uncles, aunts: Pick up the phone and give them a call,” Rumbaugh said.

Jacks, kick-the-can, hopscotch, tag and hide-and-seek are all classic summertime games that have been enjoyed for generations.

Looking for a playmate? Through Let’s Play America, Rumbaugh organizes neighborhood play groups and joins up with other events in the D.C. area.

Play will be a focus at Takoma Park’s National Night Out on Aug. 6, and also at the 11th Annual Play Day on Sept. 14 at Takoma Park Middle School.

“It is so important to give yourself permission to play,” Rumbaugh said.

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