As a teacher and advocate for children, I am increasingly alarmed at the growing rate of obesity among American children. Over the years, I have been shocked and upset to see many of my kindergarten students, who were slender at age 5, become noticeably overweight by the fifth grade. Obviously, the diet of children is largely to blame, but I believe there is another cause that is often overlooked: Children today simply do not go outside to play.
I am an exercise enthusiast and often walk or ride my bike through the streets of Thousand Oaks and Westlake Village. It is shocking and sad that so few children are outside playing on a beautiful summer day. Nearly every cul-de-sac has at least one basketball hoop sitting idly unused. There are parks, beautifully maintained, within walking distance of most neighborhoods, but for the most part, they are empty of children. Open garage doors reveal a stockpile of bikes, scooters and roller skates, yet rarely do I witness school-age children outside playing with any of these things.
Why is this? Is it because parents work and the kids aren’t home? If so, then why don’t we see children playing outside after the parents come home from work? Are children playing in their backyards? If so, then why are so many neighborhoods eerily silent and devoid of the sounds of children’s voices?
I think the answer is obvious. Children today prefer to play indoors with their electronic games and other technological gadgets, and it’s harder than ever to get them out of the house, unless you’re taking them to a movie or to buy food.
I have some suggestions for concerned parents who want to do something about this trend. How about insisting that your children play outside for an hour a day?
Here are 10 simple activities that have entertained kids for years across America:
1) Get some neighborhood kids together and play hide and go seek.
2) Fill some plastic spray bottles with water and have a water fight.
3) On hot days, pack a light dinner and take your kids to the park to eat and play.
4) Insist that your children use the above-mentioned wheeled toys that sit in the garage.
5) Draw on the sidewalk with chalk. Remember hopscotch?
6) Kids do not need to be part of an organized team to play with a ball or bat. Send them outside to play sock ball, kickball or handball.
7) Let your older kids explore their neighborhoods by going for bike rides and walks with a friend. Is it really that dangerous out there?
8) How about taking games and toys outside instead of always playing indoors. It’s a good way to befriend the other children who live in the neighborhood.
9) There are public pools that allow kids to be dropped off for an afternoon of swimming.
10) Just send them outside to play and see what they come up with on their own!
I think it’s worth the effort, and your kids will be happier and healthier.
— Lynne F. Stokell, Thousand Oaks