Prisoners or Kids: Who Gets More Outdoor Play Time?

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This amazing video was screened at the US Play Coalition conference by Kent Callison, director of communications and marketing at GameTime, creators of playground equipment (including the wildly popular Expression Swing). Kudos to Unilever, for making such a powerful commercial about kids, prison, and freedom.

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This is a video that should be shown at schools cutting back on recess, as well as throughout communities where the playgrounds are often empty.

We certainly don’t mean to imprison our kids, but when we worry that anytime our kids are outside, unsupervised, they are in danger from predators and/or the police (see this story, and this, and this, etc., etc.), inevitably, we keep them under lock and key.

The result is kids who view outdoor play as unfamiliar and maybe even dangerous, when in fact that kind of play is so crucial, we even give it back to prisoners. Deep down we know that playing outside is a fundamental human right.

Let’s keep it that way. – L

This video hit me in the gut. And that's good.

This video hit me in the gut. And that’s good.

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25 Responses to Prisoners or Kids: Who Gets More Outdoor Play Time?

  1. sigh April 25, 2016 at 1:11 pm #

    While I agree there should be outdoor time planned into a school day, I think the real tragedy is what happens to kids after and before school hours.

    My “outdoor time” as a child began in the morning, when I walked to the bus stop. At one point, that was a 1-mile walk, alone.

    We had recess at school, I think two recesses in the morning and afternoon, and lunch recess.

    After school, I walked home from the bus stop, often with a friend, often to go to their house, and play some more. I remember phases when we’d become obsessed with exploring the house under construction in our neighbourhood, or playing with a raquetball against the garage door, or seeing who could go longest on the pogo stick.

    But yeah, sometimes we’d eat pop tarts and watch Gilligan’s Island.

    The thing that strikes me about today’s kids is that there isn’t the impetus to go seek out other kids and play.

    I’ve moved a couple of times in the last few years, we had four kids ages 7 – 13 roughly, and they never, even with cajoling, sought out other kids in the neighbourhood to play with. We told them to look for the hockey nets and basketball hoops and knock on doors.

    They wouldn’t dream of it.

    When there isn’t a chance of encountering a buddy outside, the habit becomes staying inside. Outside feels too big, too lonely, without company. I went outside alone a lot as a child, sometimes sitting a vigil on a friend’s doorstep or driveway, waiting for them to come home, finding things to do while I waited.

    For me, as a kid, sitting INSIDE was lonely. Sitting outside, you at least had the chance of encountering another kid.

    What happened to our society that has given kids the reverse experience… that outside is lonely and isolating, and inside, they have the company of parents and screens? Blah.

    They seem to PREFER being prisoners. It’s mortifying.

  2. bluebird of bitterness April 25, 2016 at 1:26 pm #

    School always felt like prison to me — and that was half a century ago, when we had recess, and outdoor physical education classes, and walked or biked to and from school every day. I can’t imagine what it must be like for kids nowadays. No wonder they’re so overweight and unhealthy and depressed.

  3. lollipoplover April 25, 2016 at 1:43 pm #

    I find this video heartbreaking…yet I also wonder how many adults get 2 hours outdoors each day.

    There are also so many parallels to how often we let dogs out to exercise and relieve stress and be *good* dogs, yet we expect children to be cooped up in crates, indoors, and wonder why we have skyrocketing ADHD, anxiety disorders, obesity and diabetes at very early ages. Instead, we medicate these destructive behaviors when fresh air may be their biggest need.

    I wake up lazy, wanting to sleep in most mornings…but my dogs stare me down- EVERY DAY- and make me put on shoes entirely to early to give them their *walkies*. It’s more of a run, but it usually takes me 40 minutes or so to tire these doggies out. They wake up with ENERGY. Both of us love to be outdoors and run, smell, and look for new flowers, critters, and other dogs. It gets me out to view my neighborhood, closely, on a daily basis. The dogs have many friends and walking them every day is like their morning paper to sniff out what other dogs are peeing on their route. They are happy every day, just to go for a walk. Kind of like these prisoners who rely on the guards to let them outside. So do my dogs (and my children).
    It’s the little things.

    As for my kids, they genuinely seek out other kids to play with most days. Yesterday, there was a kickball game that was drawn as an obstacle course in elaborate chalk drawings, then a basketball game, then off (dogs came too) to organized soccer games. We returned for more playing last night and early showers and bed (they were wiped out), while us adults caught up and had a nice happy hour/dinner. Kids were all over the place. They sleep so much better and don’t fight as much when they get an outlet, like free play with friends. Sometimes there aren’t active games, they just sit under trees and do quiet stuff. But they seem so much calmer and happier (like my dogs) when they get these free outlets on these beautiful days. It’s like a natural anti-anxiety treatment, activating the good parts of the brain, naturally.

  4. CLamb April 25, 2016 at 3:18 pm #

    Here’s an idea. Why don’t we surround our schools and parks will multiple layers of fencing, razor-wire, walls, towers, and armed guards so that they could safely play out of doors for two hours each day just like prisoners?

  5. BL April 25, 2016 at 4:01 pm #

    @CLamb
    “Why don’t we surround our schools and parks will multiple layers of fencing, razor-wire, walls, towers, and armed guards”

    Plenty of schools are more or less like that already:

    http://themindcircle.com/prisons-high-schools-built-way/

  6. Sarah April 25, 2016 at 4:54 pm #

    I have a question for parents:

    Do you force your kids to go outside?

    My 3 year old likes to play outside with friends or me, but she doesn’t like to go out by herself. I go out with her when I can, and we play, or I’ll do yard work while she plays, but she doesn’t spend that much time outside because I have housework and such to do inside. When I tell her to go out (in our completely fenced back yard which I can see from the kitchen) she complains she’ll be lonely. I’ve forced her to go out a few times, but she throws a royal fit about it and comes back in as soon as I let her. Am I the only one with this weird problem?

    When I think about it, it’s not dissimilar to naps – she doesn’t usually sleep any more, but I still require her (against her will) to go to her room for some quiet time each afternoon. I do it even though she doesn’t like it because it’s good for her and for me. Maybe I should make outside time a daily requirement just like nap time.

  7. Backroads April 25, 2016 at 5:31 pm #

    As a teacher, I’m generally against taking away recess as punishment. And I certainly support even more recess for kids!

    However, I once read an article on the subject of teachers taking away recess. One teacher occasionally did take away recess if she felt the situation called for it. A rare thing, but not unheard of in her classroom. Paraphrasing, she said she was less worried about a kid missing 15 minutes of school recess than she was about a kid going home and watching TV and playing video games for four hours.

  8. Backroads April 25, 2016 at 5:32 pm #

    To Sarah…

    My three-year-old loves to play in our fenced backyard by herself. She also loves it when we her parents play with her, or when a friend is over to play, but she is quite happy playing by herself.

    Yeah, I’d make it a required time of the day.

  9. Emily April 25, 2016 at 6:25 pm #

    >>One teacher occasionally did take away recess if she felt the situation called for it. A rare thing, but not unheard of in her classroom. Paraphrasing, she said she was less worried about a kid missing 15 minutes of school recess than she was about a kid going home and watching TV and playing video games for four hours.<<

    Flip side, what if that "fifteen minutes of school recess" was going to be IT for that child, that day, or even most days? That can be the reality for kids all over the socioeconomic spectrum. What about the low-income kids who live in sketchy parts of town, where it's not safe to play outside, because of drug dealing, fighting, and gang warfare? What about the kids who are in after-school care programs until it's dark? What about the middle-and-upper-class kids who get carted around to an endless parade of structured extra-curricular activities after school, and barely know how to play outside, or do anything spontaneous, because every moment of their lives are scheduled? If I was a teacher (and, I attempted it; but walked away from teacher's college because I was so disgusted with the system), I'd no more take away recess than deny a child food. Another thing–I often wondered, do kids miss recess because they misbehave, or do they misbehave because they miss recess? As others have mentioned upthread, denying recess just exacerbates the "wiggles" in kids, and makes them even more prone to acting out, because that's exactly what they're doing–they're acting out their frustrations about being forced to sit still for several hours a day.

  10. marie April 25, 2016 at 8:40 pm #

    We should bring back cocktail hour for parents. Invite the neighbors over for drinks. The kids will soon enough find the outdoors more interesting than boozy adults. 🙂

    So many activities for kids are scheduled that it is a rare neighborhood where kids are available to come out to play. Also, dance lessons and soccer games are where parents get their time with adults. That’s why cocktail hour is the best solution, lol. Give adults an adult way to be with other adults and kids will find ways to play with the other kids.

  11. andy April 26, 2016 at 12:45 am #

    @Sarah I think that is normal at that age. It is normal for kids to want to have company even if that company washes dishes. My kids tended to play in the same room as I was. I don’t think it is fear or safety, just wish not to be alone and be with you – say a word to you and get back response once in a while.

    We don’t have house, so 3 years old simply could not go out alone.

  12. Katie G April 26, 2016 at 7:01 am #

    Sarah-
    Yes, I insist on my children being outside a couple times a day. We’re a homeschool family, kids ages 9, 6, & 4 (plus 9 months). It’s almost odd that they ever resist going out because screens and techy stuff aren’t a huge thing. But there aren’t kids around, either. I know there’s a girl next door the same age as my 6yo, but never once have they spoken to us. Nor have I ever seen her outdoors unless she and her teenage sister are helping their parents in the yard. (Admittedly, they do a nice job on the yard. But use it?)

    I’m praying for ways to get neighborliness going, here and/or when we move eventually. I’ve said before that neighborliness may be the keystone of a lot of the problems FRK is interested in solving. We just all need starting points to do that…..

  13. Beanie April 26, 2016 at 7:47 am #

    Sarah,
    I already told my kids that this summer we are going to spend a lot of time outside. My 10-year-old said, “Okay!” enthusiastically. (We’ll see what happens when it gets really hot). But I’m liking the idea of making a required time, just a goal to shoot for every day, because we all get lazy and just stay inside. I would like to change this for ME as well as them. Not much hope of having other kids around in our neighborhood, but I’m planning to start each day by eating breakfast outdoors and we’ll see where that leads us. We have a nice backyard and as they get older, it gets used less. I’d like us to acclimate ourselves to being outside more, I think it will good for all of us.

  14. lollipoplover April 26, 2016 at 8:46 am #

    “Do you force your kids to go outside?”

    Sometimes.

    Not as punishment, but if they start arguing or doing physical stuff indoors (one is a wrestler), I tell them to take it outside before something breaks. Or if I have a work call and needed quiet, outside they go.

    Being that your child is only 3, it’s perfectly normal that she wants to be with you, even outside. I set up a sandbox under the kitchen window (with a cover to keep it clean) and also made several of our patio planters into little fairy gardens by planting a few small succulents with figurines, shiny rocks and reusing yogurt containers to make little ponds, etc. They were right outside the door so I could see her and she could see me but she got the fresh air and would play and add little things (bridges over the pond, animals) and kept her entertained yet she could still see me while playing. We also had a water table with little boats that the kids loved. Make it appealing to play outside (even if it’s right outside the door) and she will eventually be *lured* outside on her own. For us, the messier the play (sand, water, dirt), the more they wanted to do it!

  15. Papilio April 26, 2016 at 9:32 am #

    “we had four kids ages 7 – 13 roughly, and they never, even with cajoling, sought out other kids in the neighbourhood to play with. We told them to look for the hockey nets and basketball hoops and knock on doors.

    They wouldn’t dream of it.”

    Hahaha, I can totally imagine. Little Brother and I weren’t that kind of kids either, doing sporty stuff (certainly not me, I hated PE) or seeking out other kids. We would rather catch salamanders or climb trees, that sort of thing. Nothing involving a ball or a competition…

  16. Havva April 26, 2016 at 9:57 am #

    @Katie G,
    When I moved to my neighborhood, I sort of expected what happened in my childhood neighborhood. That being, that the neighbors who already lived there would come over, say hi, and perhaps bring some food or something. It didn’t happen. After 9 months we had only met 3 sets of neighbors (and one set had become panic stricken when we asked a question about their children, apparently we weren’t supposed to know the kids existed). To make matters worse, the friendliest of the neighbors was going to move.

    So while we were hunkered down waiting to be plowed out after a blizzard, it struck us that we could do the welcome wagon in reverse. And that with everyone snowed was our best chance to actually find people at home. So we baked muffins, and walked (or rather slogged through snow up to our knees) offering muffins to the neighbors. It worked out well. We got invited in for a cup of tea at most homes. And landed ourselves an invitation to a Superbowl party, an annual Passover Seder, and some summer backyard parties. So that is my answer for how to get neighborliness going.

  17. Havva April 26, 2016 at 10:25 am #

    @Sarah,

    My kid doesn’t want to go out by herself either. She is a serious extrovert. And I think that is why she will stick near me no matter how boring I am being, rather than head outside. Though, when she was younger, there was also an issue of her not really knowing how to entertain herself.

    The inability to play independently we resolved by forcing the issue. We resolutely ignored her demands for attention while preparing dinner, until she decided it was more fun to play alone, rather than cling to my leg and cry while I chopped veggies. (Of course if we could, we involved her in the cooking. But that wasn’t always feasible.) She still likes to touch base with us when she is playing though. So she usually stays close by. As she has gotten older, the amount of time she can happily entertain herself, and the distance she will go while doing so has increased.

    There is one thing though, that will get her right out the door. And that is the neighbor’s free-range boy. He knocked on the door this weekend with a butterfly net in hand 🙂 . My daughter had heard and seen him already. She had pulled on her boots and was headed out the side door to join him by the time he made it to the front door. The two of them are a little whirlwind. The only thing to do is get out of the way.

    Unfortunately, I think the key element to getting kids to enjoy going outside is one we have limited control over… free range friends. But when your daughter is ready to play in the front yard, her mere presence may help bring out other kids. Good luck.

  18. John April 26, 2016 at 12:44 pm #

    Quote: “we had four kids ages 7 – 13 roughly, and they never, even with cajoling, sought out other kids in the neighborhood to play with.”

    @Sigh:

    Don’t feel bad Sigh. I don’t think your kids are the only ones. Nowadays, it’s not unusual at all for two youngsters of the same general age and sex who live 4 or 5 houses down from each other on the same street and not even have a clue that each other exists. But growing up in the 60s, we knew and played with other kids who lived as far as 5 blocks away!

  19. Elsie K April 26, 2016 at 6:22 pm #

    I loved the part about a bath – there are days my kids get two or three baths.

    I’m amazed at how many parents don;’t let their kids get dirty. I understand that some days just aren’t good days for playing in the dirt. However, I have parents tell me they wish their kids would play outside like mine. And then I look at their astroturf yards, their insistence that the kids stay clean all the time, their reluctance to let the kids collect sticks and rocks or eat snacks that fell on the grass, all while my kids dig up worms and carry tree branches through the park and catch small animals. It starts with the little things.

  20. Katie G April 27, 2016 at 6:22 am #

    @Havva- interestingly, we do live in a snowy area, upstate NY. My husband does snowblow for several houses if he’s the first to get to it; I was also astonished when the man next door cleared for me a few times this past winter when my husband had been working voernight and wasn’t the first to do it. But, that’s the msot neighborly anyone (especially that family) has ever been.

  21. lollipoplover April 27, 2016 at 10:00 am #

    @Havva-
    I love your muffin story. Yes, be proactive and take the first step toward positive neighbor interactions. We’ve done it with new neighbors when we’ve had bigger parties and don’t want them calling the police for noise, etc. Our street has a mix of families, grandparents, and singles, yet my kids are allowed to run through all of the yards and play epic games of manhunt because we are on good terms with our neighbors and they know and like our kids. They drive slow when they see kids playing in the streets. I’ve sent over baked goods and especially surplus veggies from the garden. It’s hard to be a “Get off my lawn” type neighbor when the children are bringing you a basket of heirloom tomatoes and peppers or half of a delicious chocolate cake (don’t ask me about the other half!)

  22. Lisa April 27, 2016 at 5:23 pm #

    I have been following this website for years and just want to say thank you so much for all you do on behalf of children. This video was very difficult to watch, but spoke out on so many levels–on behalf of children and prisoners, and prisoners who can’t see their children. So sad.

  23. Baby Toonz May 3, 2016 at 6:42 am #

    Yeah, kids must get some outdoor time; a time for them to get introduced to what world is and how they should be to outside world.

  24. JP Merzetti May 4, 2016 at 10:21 am #

    @sigh…..
    Very well put, and echoes my sentiments exactly. I feel like I could write a book on the subject (and maybe would, but it involves too much time spent indoors!)
    Two summers ago, I revisted my hometown for the first time in 6 years, after my dad died. A small city actually – it grew to 50,000 souls and leveled off at that number about 3 decades ago.
    The town is lovingly preserved….so much so that about 90% of all the schoolboy haunts I remember are still remarkably intact.
    In the entire weekend I was there, I counted exactly two small children playing in a yard adjacent to the back lane I used to take to school. That’s it.

    There was a kind of post-apocaleptic feel to the streets….a beautiful summer weekend….and nobody was out.
    Ironically – where most of the kids now are, is squashed into the few newer subdivisions on the southern outskirts of town, that didn’t exist when I lived there.
    Adjacent to those subdivisions is a huge tract of virgin woodland – left as a kind of semi-park, but still very wild.
    Not a kid in sight, anywhere.
    So “I” played there myself. (I guess I was the danger stranger of the hour.)
    Playing with my big boy toy…..a Nikon camera.

    That town was a free range kid’s paradise.
    And it still is.
    And nobody knows.
    Or cares.
    It is a strange experience in life…..to feel an empty schoolyard playground weep.
    The bones of the city ache – from the arthritic loss of the feel of restless feet.

    No technological feelgood fantasies kept us inside, back then. No home comforts. The most raging and violent weathers drew us outside like magnets….to survive them, and live to tell the tale. Adventure.
    KIds together, and kids alone. Sniffing the wind and dreaming.
    A day experienced like a page in a history book.

    So do today’s kids spend their lives in a kind of prison? And if so, is that prison more a new state of mind?
    The freedoms I knew were socially sanctioned. They were an automatic given.
    They tell me times have changed.
    And changed times change kids.
    And the sins of elders and betters stain deeply the imaginitive fabric of the child. That’s what I think.
    (and is probably what I so desperately needed every ounce of freedom from.)

    The boy I was dreamed big – as only a free kid could.
    The biggest dream of all was freedom itself.

  25. MT May 7, 2016 at 11:29 am #

    Sarah, yes, I force my kids to play outside, but I don’t make them stay out as long as I would like them to. I know the issue is that there are usually no other kids out there, and they get bored and lonely. In our old neighborhood, where there were kids out and about most afternoons – they’d stay out for two or three hours no problem playing with other kids. Here, they check in repeatedly – can I come in yet? It’s also much hotter here than where we used to live, so that’s part of the problem in the summer. But I do require them to take breaks outside, and if they are unwilling, I tell them they can stay inside if they want, but they cannot use any electronics until they have played outside for at least X number of minutes. That gets them out there.