Opinion

Prioritizing play: Splash pads, parks and wading pools are vital infrastructure, Joanne Seiff writes

Keeping kids healthy, imaginative and playing can require a lot of a family's time investment, often without fancy gadgets, lessons or activities. When it gets warm, it also requires basic park facilities — but I am worried about our access to play spaces.

I am worried about how much access to recreation facilities some Winnipeggers will have this summer

Much of our brain growth, relaxation and yes, joy, come from creative play, Joanne Seiff writes. (Steve Stoner/Loveland Reporter-Herald/Associated Press)

When we dream about summer, adults try to plan child care, but for the kids, the best parts of the summer involve parks, sandboxes, splash pads and wading pools.

There's no mention of summer camp, lessons or activities. Instead, it's all about being outside with parents or friends, playing endless digging games in the garden or the sandbox, and splashing and spraying each other in the water.

Keeping kids (and adults) healthy, imaginative and playing can require a lot of a family's time investment, a time often without fancy gadgets, lessons or activities. When it gets warm, it also requires basic park facilities — and I am worried about how much access to recreation facilities some Winnipeggers will have this summer.

Parks just don't seem to be a priority these days, as I was reminded when I read about the political dispute that left a Bridgwater Lakes play space untended for a while this spring.

Since our winters are long, we definitely focus on summer treats to get through. For many, our sparkling summers make the colder months bearable.

"But how do you make it? You can't play outside?" That query from someone with a three-year-old in a warmer climate took me by surprise.

Sure, they've had snowstorms — that closed down their city for a day at most. Snow melts and they're back to a soggy playground, a park with asphalt or a concrete sidewalk. Just put on your wellies and go back outside.

Research indicates that play (outdoor or indoor) is really important, not just for kids' development, but also for adults.

Yet many of us don't seem to have time for play. Even though it builds our cognitive function and problem solving abilities, reduces stress and keeps us physically healthy, our current lifestyle seems to focus on rushing from one thing to the next, over-programming ourselves and our children, and spending a lot of time looking at screens instead.

Unstructured time tends to be seen as a time-waster and is too often spent exhausted in front of the TV.

I won't lie, I am guilty of it myself, and maybe CBC Kids is on a little too often.

Yet weekends are also reflective play time. The kids build towers and race their matchbox cars. They build log barns for their animals and steer cardboard boxes into ships. We ride trains, visit the grocery store, the hairdresser and the doctor … in our imaginations. 

There's no phone and no TV at the park or in our basement. The Wi-Fi isn't great there, and sometimes, the old radio/CD player works. I often knit or spin yarn on my spinning wheel while the boys play.

When it's too hot or rainy or we need a snack, we tidy up and head to the jungle (the living room) or the pretend restaurant (the dining room). We call grandparents and my twins show off their newest cars. The relatives have to imagine them, because we're not using video.  

On the way to the wading pool, we sing songs that don't exist and tell funny stories that only make sense to seven-year-olds. Time goes exceedingly slowly at first and then rushes by when the games are good.

When Sunday evening comes, everyone seems ready to start weekday routines again.

Brain growth, relaxation, joy

We're not stuck in the past; my family has plenty of screen time. Yet much of our brain growth, relaxation and yes, joy, come from creative play. They come from making and doing, creating and digging in dirt and coming up with new games.

While it may seem like an impossibility to change routines, it's OK to try it. Cutting out structured activity or an hour of TV allows time to try something else instead. It's free or cheap, it's right nearby, and maybe only requires a pick-up hockey game, a front yard tent fort, a new cardboard box in the living room, or in summer, some friends at a splash pad or wading pool.

Mayor Brian Bowman and Premier Brian Pallister, did your kids use the splash pads and wading pools? It's time to prioritize access to these summer delights. Don't deny kids those important and sunny playtime learning opportunities.

Ask any kids, and they'll say: Summer is too short as it is. We don't have time to miss this.


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About the Author

Joanne Seiff

Joanne Seiff is the author of three books. She works in Winnipeg as a freelance writer.

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