Let the Kids Play!

Parents are trying way too hard to "entertain" their kids.

Mama Said

Empty Playgrounds, Overscheduled Kids

The drawbacks of organized events

-Jennifer Lubell

empty playgroundThis past weekend, my family and I discovered a new playground.

It was the most amazing playground I’d ever seen, with several jungle gyms, lots of slides and gadgets, swing sets and tire rope swings, and that wonderful spongy asphalt that’s easy on a kid’s knees and brings peace of mind to worried mommies.

And it was empty. Except for me, my husband and my delighted toddler, who spent a good hour sliding down every slide and enjoying all of the treasures this wonderful park had to offer.

Our suburban neighborhood is crawling with playgrounds, and as I’ve noticed, a lot of them have very few visitors, save for the larger parks, which host football and baseball games. My pet theory is everyone’s kids are forgoing the unstructured outdoor activity for “My Gym” or other organized events.

Recently, we made the mistake of signing up for one of these things.

My poor husband thought it would be a nice change from our usual weekend routine to enter our 2-year-old son in the Halloween “fun run.” At the end of the race, after a brisk quarter-mile jog, Alex would collect a ribbon and a free banana.

To its credit, the event was hosted outside, but was filled with long lines for the moon-bounce tent and other games, and the port-o-potties. Alex had to wait a long time for the toddler’s run and was so fed up by the time we started, he cried for most of the run and I had to carry him to the finish line. The coffee was awful, and a mom waiting in line for one of the games was rude to me. I felt like pushing her into the moon bounce, leaving her at the mercy of the happy jumping kiddies inside.

Someone should have handed me a ribbon. Or a drink.

Alex enjoyed the banana, and that was it. Once we got home, he was much happier.

While we were waiting for Alex’s big race to start, I looked over at a little girl who was about five. She had a cute flower painted on her cheek, and I remarked, “Wow, they have face painting here, too.”

Her mom smiled at me and said, “Oh, that was yesterday’s event.”

I pictured another crowded, busy place with lots of face painters, sticky, overpriced food, and people avoiding giant horse turds to make their way over to the pony rides.

Whatever happened to unplanned fun? Seems like parents are so pressured to “entertain” their kids, they’re over-scheduling them – and stressing everyone out in the process.

It’s not that I’m against organized events. I was an entertainer at a renaissance fair for many years. But there was a reason I stopped doing the fair every weekend.

I wanted fresh air, away from the smell of greasy food and the sweat of cranky people. That type of environment is fun every once in a while, but in my view, there’s nothing more satisfying than watching your child enjoy the simple pleasure of swinging on a swing.

Playgrounds are free. And many of them are waiting for us.

Jennifer Lubell is a health-care reporter in Washington, D.C., and mom to Alex, her spirited 2-year-old.

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