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COLD FEET: Birds take to the ice as winter makes its appearance at Yellowstone National Park. / Photo by Nancy Williams

Today's word on journalism

Monday, November 5, 2007

On Objectivity:

"I still insist that 'objective journalism' is a contradiction in terms. But I want to draw a very hard line between the inevitable reality of 'subjective journalism' and the idea that any honestly subjective journalist might feel free to estimate a crowd at a rally for some candidates the journalist happens to like personally at 2,000 instead of 612 -- or to imply that a candidate the journalist views with gross contempt, personally, is a less effective campaigner than he actually is."

-- Hunter S. Thompson, from Fear & Loathing: CORRECTIONS, RETRACTIONS, APOLOGIES, COP-OUTS, ETC., a 1972 memo to Rolling Stone editor Jann S. Wenner, excerpted in the current (November 2007) issue of Harper’s Magazine (Thanks to alert WORDster Andy Merton)

Imaginative play is the essence of childhood, not playgrounds

By Maddie Wilson

October 22, 2007 | We didn't need much. Just our imaginations, a front yard full of grass and our hands. My friends and I had it all.

We started out by sitting cross-legged in a circle on the lawn pulling out the grass, until we each had our own little hole in front of us. Piles of grass were next to each hole. We used these piles to build walls around our holes. We dug out tiny holes in the walls, which became the bedrooms. We finished off the roof with grass and twigs, and we had it: our own little grass huts. The magic was in play now, as we created imaginary people to live in these tiny houses. Even when my mom came out and yelled at us for digging up the yard, we were still able to find our bliss at the lawns at school during recess. And that was it. It was our childhood happiness. No playground needed.

Playground. This is the problem that is sucking the imagination out of children today. Sure, playgrounds are exquisite. They have big swirly slides and bright green and yellow monkey bars. But, what can you do with them? You can go down the slide. Then you can climb across the monkey bars. Then you can hike back up the stairs and go down the slide again. One more time across the monkey bars, but this time you win some blisters on your hands as a bonus. This is playtime.

Professionals make it so easy for kids to play. They do not even have to think; their play is outlined for them. Brains are allowed to turn off, have a little rest. No imagination needed.

This is detrimental to the development of children. It is just as important as nutrition and health. Adrian Voce, director of the Children's Play Council and Play England said, "The extent of play deprivation experienced by many children today is at least as damaging as the prevalence of junk food."

Part of the problem is that adults are creating these playgrounds while not putting their children's development in the best interest. CEO Randy White and Director of Education and Child Development Vicki Stoecklin, with White Hutchinson Leisure and Learning Group, said in an article that parents create playgrounds today out of a "paradigm," or conventional wisdom shaped from their own experiences. They just pick out playground equipment from a catalogue instead of thinking about what will really aid their children's learning. In the article, titled "Children's Outdoor Play and Learning Environments: Returning to Nature," White and Stoecklin said most adults see "gross motor play equipment such as swings, jungle gyms and slides" as their model for a children's playground. That's great, but where is the magical grass to build imaginary worlds in? They say this play equipment is easy to assemble, but "denies children their birthright to experience the entire natural outdoors."

My friends and I deserved to dig up the lawn. White and Stoecklin said that limiting outdoor playgrounds to motor activities and manufactured equipment loses the potential of outdoor areas -- which include vegetation, animals, insects, water and sand -- to be rich play. They said children learn best through free play and discovery, not by emerging from a slide with hair sticking straight up.

Playing freely and expanding our imaginations was important to the future of my friends and me. The New York Times quoted Robin Moore, professor of landscape architecture at North Carolina State University, stating the importance of children learning by playing in natural areas. "Natural spaces and materials stimulate children's limitless imaginations and serve as the medium of inventiveness and creativity," says Moore.

Actually, children prefer playing in natural places, according to a study released by the Children's Play Council. The August 2006 study found that 82 percent of children preferred playing in areas which include gardens, parks and local fields.

It was always a bigger adventure when, for our annual "cousin camp," my aunts would take all my cousins to play in a campground among the chipmunks, rocks, logs and hidden forts under the branches of the spruce trees than taking us to a park for the afternoon.

Children need to use their imaginations. It is what makes life worth living during childhood. As adults, we remember our imaginary friends, the rock that was shaped like our Grandma's lap that we could sit in, walking across the "tightrope" that was the log over the creek, but seemed like thousands of feet in the air, and turning into a mermaid (or merman) every time we dove into a lake. Playgrounds these days just do not allow children to challenge their minds and make lasting memories.


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