When many of us were kids, playtime involved riding bikes, running around playing tag, and yes, enjoying the equipment at our local playgrounds. For most kids today, playtime involves sitting in front of a glowing screen, sometimes for hours at a time. Most parents would agree that spending time with technology not the best option for their kids, but research shows that it could actually be making them sick.
The good news is that there’s a solution to all these tech-related health hazards: more time playing outdoors at the local playground!
Computer Vision Syndrome
The American Optometric Association has identified Computer Vision Syndrome, or digital eye strain, as a group of eye-related problems resulting from prolonged use of computers, tablets, e-readers, and smartphones. Symptoms include headaches, blurred vision, dry eyes, and neck and shoulder pain. Some pediatric eye doctors have seen a connection between heavy use of electronic devices and the risk for early myopia in kids.
Why playgrounds make a difference: While interacting with computers, tablets, and other electronic devices forces children to focus on objects close to their faces, playground play allows them broaden their fields of vision and focus on objects at all distances (near, mid-range, and far).
Because video games and other forms of electronic entertainment involve sitting for long periods, too much screen time can put kids at risk for juvenile obesity. Kids are also more likely to indulge in high-calorie, high-fat snacks while they’re distracted by what’s happening on the screen.
Why playgrounds make a difference: Running around at the local playground offers calorie-burning cardiovascular benefits, while activities like climbing, crawling, and swinging work muscles in different areas of the body. And while kids are busy being active, they’re less likely to reach for sugary or high-fat snacks.
In 2010, Dr. Larry Rosen of California State University led a study involving 1,000 parents of children ages 4–18 to explore a connection between media consumption and ill-being (which he defined as “psychological problems, behavioral problems, attention difficulties, and physical symptomology”). “What we found was astounding,” Dr. Rosen reports. “For all ages, even after controlling for all possible alternative explanations, total media usage predicted all forms of ill-being.”
Why playgrounds make a difference: Many studies show that time spent outdoors, especially in greener environments, can improve mood, promote creativity, and reduce the risk of depression in both kids and adults. Physical activity has shown to have many of the same effects, making our playgrounds doubly important for kids’ psychological and emotional well being.
While some may question the need for playgrounds in today’s high-tech world, they offer the families in your community a fun, active, healthy break from glowing screens (and the health hazards they pose). By encouraging more family time at your playground, you’re helping parents raise happier, healthier kids while building the bonds that make every community stronger. And that’s one healthy combination!
The first day of spring is just a few weeks away … although you might say that the season arrived early here in southeast Texas, given the warm temperatures we’ve been seeing! Spring is the perfect time to spruce up the greenery around your playground and enhance the natural surroundings for kids and parents alike.
Spending time in a greener environment isn’t just a feast for the eyes; it benefits kids as well as grownups on many different levels. Studies have shown that spending time in nature builds kids’ confidence, improves creativity and imagination, teaches responsibility, and stimulates their brains by engaging all their senses. For parents, being around trees and other greenery has a calming effect, offering a welcome break from fast-paced, technology-packed routines.
Of course, lush greenery also enhances the eye-appeal of your playground, enticing kids and young families to visit more often and to stay longer. If the green areas around your play equipment could use a little TLC, this is the perfect time to spruce them up.
Remember that anything you plant will be accessible by little ones, so keep these safety tips in mind:
- Avoid plants with thorns that can cut or scrape little ones as they run past or fall into branches.
- Avoid plants that produce small berries; even if nonpoisonous, they could pose a choking hazard.
- Steer clear of plants that are prone to attracting stinging insects.
What to Plant
If you’re ready to add some fresh life to the green areas around your playground, here are some terrific options for planting this spring:
Shade Trees: Trees offer not only health-boosting oxygen, but also the shade that becomes so important during our hot Texas summers. Think about adding some different varieties of oaks or elms to add color and variety to your landscape.
Hardy Shrubs: These little green gems let you create paths and segmentations without blocking visitors’ views … not to mention keeping bouncing balls from rolling into the street. They’re also great for games of hide-and-seek. Consider boxwood or another hardy variety of shrub to make sure it stands up to heavy traffic … and occasional tackles by rambunctious little ones.
Vines: Well-placed vines offer a great way to beautify vertical structures such as chain-link fences or to use as ground cover in shady areas. Some vine varieties grow more aggressively and require more frequent trimming than others; keep this in mind when deciding which ones to plant.
Flowering Plants: Plant flowers in lower-traffic areas where they’re less likely to be trampled by little guests. A colorful bed of blooms near the entrance to your playground adds eye appeal that will help attract visitors. Choose hardy varieties that require little maintenance, such as yarrow, petunias, and daisies.