According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, toddlers and preschool aged children need at least 60 minutes of unstructured, active play every day.
Unstructured play (or child-initiated, exploratory physical activity) has loads of benefits to early childhood health. Playing outside in parks and open spaces promotes healthy physical activity by encouraging young children to run, skip, jump, and shake their sillies out. Playing with friends teaches little ones how to share and take turns. And what better way for a child to learn about nature than to find a wiggly worm or allow a butterfly to land on her nose?
Many families like to visit local parks and playgrounds, but how can families find out which ones are the best?
Enter KaBOOM!, a national non-profit dedicated to saving play for America’s children. We’ve partnered with KaBOOM!, First 5 Contra Costa and East County Regional Group to create bilingual maps of the best playspaces for little ones in the East Contra Costa County cities of Pittsburg, Antioch, and Bay Point.
KaBOOM! also provides an interactive website called Map of Play, a “playspace finder and a way to gather data on where playspaces exist, the condition of existing playspaces, and where playspaces are needed, so that we all can participate in improving the state of play in our own communities.”
Map of Play allows local residents to enter information about neighborhood parks and playgrounds. All you have to do is enter a zip code or city and a map of play space near you will appear. There’s a mobile phone app too, which uses your smart phone’s GPS or a zip code to locate playgrounds near you. The best thing about Map of Play is that it’s user generated. That means your neighbors found the parks on the map and uploaded information about them for the benefit of others.
So, what if you search for parks in your area and don’t see any parks listed? That means that no user has entered any information yet. This is your chance to share your expertise on what you know about playspaces in your area.
If you are interested in uploading information about parks in your neighborhood, here are some key things keep an eye out for during your next visit to a local park:
- Is the play equipment age appropriate? Some play structures will have signs to let you know what ages should play on it.
- Is the playspace fenced in?
- Are there restrooms and water fountains? Are they functional?
- Are there sidewalks leading to the park? Safe crosswalks at the park entrances?
- Are there benches around the playspace? Picnic tables or BBQ pits?
- Is the park clean? Do you see litter or graffiti? Are there trash cans available?
- Are there other games and activities available for young children and families, like tic-tac-toe panels, sandboxes, walking paths, basketball courts, or soccer fields?
You can upload photos to the site too. Be sure to take pictures while you’re there so folks visiting the site can see how good your park is.
Going on a park outing and sharing information on KaBOOM! Map of Play is a great way to both ensure that your children or children in your care are getting enough physical activity and a wonderful way to share what you know about parks in your community. You’re the expert! Share what you know about a local park today.
Adapted from the July 2014 edition of the Contra Costa Child Care Council Nutrition Edition.