Silken Laumann connected the obesity crisis in kids with the lack of children playing outdoors. She created her Active Kids Movement to get kids playing again.
Where have all the children gone? That’s what former Olympic rower and motivational speaker, Silken Laumann wondered when she took her children to the park. Kids weren’t playing road hockey or riding bikes or playing all the fun games she recalled from her own childhood in Mississauga, Ontario.
“I remember thinking somebody should do something about this,” Laumann recalls, “and that led me to write a book about the importance of movement and play for children.” Within the first month of the release of her book, Child’s Play (Random House Canada, 2006), she’d done almost 100 interviews about play.
The overwhelming interest in her book increased Laumann’s awareness of the obesity crisis affecting children today. She made the connection between overweight, out-of-shape children and the absence of children playing in her neighbourhood. This awareness led her to create Silken’s Active Kids Movement (silkensactivekids.ca).
Her program is committed to increasing the number of children playing across Canada. It aims to reconnect parents with the joy of playing with their children and to energize families and neighbourhoods so they will create safe opportunities for children to play together.
“We’ve lost our neighbourhood connection. By not really knowing our neighbours and not feeling safe in our community, our fear has increased for our children’s safety,” Laumann says. “In order to bring back play, we have to reconnect with our neighbours.”
The Active Kids’ website provides information on how to create Community Action Networks (CANs). These small groups of neighbours can create play opportunities for children in the home, in the park, on the playing field, in the forest, or in the gym. The goal is to include everyone from parents to grandparents, to siblings, friends, and neighbours. As George Bernard Shaw said, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”
With a generous grant from ActNow BC, Silken’s Active Kids is setting up community programs in Nelson, Burnaby, and Victoria, BC, where they’re partnering with Parks and Recreation and Public Health to spread the Active Kids message on a city-wide level. Laumann’s goal is to secure funding from each province so that Active Kids can connect like-minded people across Canada to build Community Action Networks in their communities.
Laumann makes the distinction between play and sports. There are two types of play–structured and unstructured. Organized sports, such as hockey or soccer, are structured forms of play where rules must be followed. Unstructured play allows children to stretch their imaginations and unleash their creativity. “There’s a real danger that we structure our kids’ activities so much that they don’t know how to make their own fun,” she says. “They don’t know how to use their imagination to entertain themselves.”
As a single parent of two children, William, age 10, and Kate, age 8, Laumann is aware that parents today face time pressures and work commitments. We’ve provided our children with electronic forms of entertainment, including computers, televisions, and video games, that often serve as electronic babysitters.
“Are we raising a generation of kids that can only entertain themselves by turning on the square screen?” Laumann asks. “If so, we’re creating a really unhealthy generation that’s not going to be empowered to be the best that [it] can be.”
Laumann believes we have to approach our children’s obesity crisis from a positive perspective. Instead of saying our kids are not fit enough, we need to rephrase the problem. How can we help our children to have more free time? How can we get them outdoors? How can we get to know our neighbours? What can we do to return the sounds of children playing to our streets and parks?
Set Aside Time to Play
Here are some of Silken Laumann’s ideas for playing with your children:
- Go for a 20-minute walk with your children to explore your neighbourhood once a day.
- Kick a soccer ball around the backyard for 20 minutes while the casserole’s in the oven.
- Go for a 30-minute bike ride together around the neighbourhood.
- Incorporate the spirit of fun into all of your activities with your children–tell stories, play make believe, and look for treasure hunt items.