On a beautiful sunny and warm late May afternoon, a tour of Keremeos’ two public playgrounds in Pine and Memorial Parks revealed no one making use of them.
According to the 2012 Active Healthy Kids Canada Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth, Canadian children and youth are not playing enough; assigning an “F” grade for Active Play and Leisure.
“ I can’t say that I have really seen much of a change (with respect to use) at Memorial Park,” said Wendy Kerr, who works in the Keremeos Municipal office across the street from Memorial Park’s playground.
“Maybe more of the younger set, with a parent,” she added.
The village made major improvements to both playgrounds in the past two years, adding equipment and improving the fall material on the playgrounds.
“Unstructured play is declining with each generation, and this is having a negative effect on the health and wellness of our children and youth,” says Dr. Mark Tremblay, Chief Scientific Officer, Active Healthy Kids Canada, and Director of HALO. “Kids of all ages should have regular opportunities for active play, where they can let loose, explore, run, climb, crawl and play in parks with friends, like their parents once did. Active play is fun, but it is also shown to improve a child’s motor function, creativity, decision-making, problem-solving and social skills.”
Modern day attitudes towards children’s safety may also have something to do with the low turnout at public playgrounds. Fears of child predators keep children at home when a parent is unavailable to supervise them – a generation ago, most parents didn’t think twice about sending their kids to a place like Pine Park to play the afternoon away, unencumbered by a parents watchful eye.
Fifty-eight per cent of Canadian parents say they are very concerned about keeping their children safe and feel they have to be over-protective of them. Safety concerns, whether or not they are founded, such as crime, traffic, neighbourhood danger, outdoor darkness and lack of supervision, discourage parents from letting their children and youth play outdoors.
To ensure Canadian children of all ages have opportunities for active play, parents and caregivers can encourage children to choose active play over more sedentary behaviours, such as sitting in front of screens. After school and weekends are opportune times to encourage active play, especially outdoors.
An additional benefit for parents is that active play does not have to cost anything. To address safety concerns, parents and caregivers can take turns supervising and playing with children outdoors or encourage kids to play with a buddy. Given the opportunity, kids want to play – 92 per cent of Canadian kids said they would choose playing with friends over watching TV.
Tammy Hartfield heads up the SESS PAC organization. The Olalla mother of two feels that children’s activity in the Lower Similkameen may not be quite as bad as the national average.
“I do think that safety issues can contribute to some the of lack of active play time in our area. I also know personally, that online gaming, Nintendo DS, etc. certainly have their appeal.
However, we are also fortunate in our community because so many community groups see the value in healthy active living. We have the Similkameen Minor Sports Association (soccer & baseball), Jr. Tri Club (swimming, biking, running), Similkameen Recreation Centre (hockey, skating, swimming), School sports teams and also the PAC groups,” she commented.
“The Cawston Primary PAC worked hard to purchase new playground equipment and SESS PAC has recently purchased new playground equipment that will hopefully be installed for the fall.” Not to forget, added Hartfield, is the Similkameen Trails Society, who have worked hard developing walking trails that are accessible to all.
“As the weather has improved, I have noticed more kids in our neighborhood out biking, playing soccer and playing tag or hide ‘n’ seek.
So as a rural community, I think we may be doing better than the report suggests,” she concluded.