Philadelphia Declaration of Play
Respectfully submitted by Laurel M. Silber, Psy.D.
Logo by Emily Silber
Mayor Nutter proclaimed, September 23, 2011, Philadelphia Declaration of Play Day. On that Friday evening Philadelphia Center for Psychoanalytic Education co-hosted, along with Smith Memorial Playground, Play InBetween: Philadelphia Pocket Parks, Delaware Valley Association for the Education of Young Children and The Parent Child Center of the Psychoanalytic Center of Philadelphia, a kick-off event for advocates of children to sign a Declaration of Play and commit energy to changing the lives of children in Philadelphia. We were sounding a bell, again, in Philadelphia to alert people about a crisis in childhood. Foremost on the agenda is to return play to children’s lives in the schools, homes and neighborhoods. The event was held at the Smith Memorial Playground and Playhouse and 60 people came for a cocktail party, accompanied by a jazz trio, and hearing speakers, Dr. Anna Beresin, associate professor of liberal arts of the University of the Arts and author of Recess Battles (recessaccess.org); Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, a pediatrician specializing in adolescent medicine at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania, author of "Building resilience in Children and Teens and Letting go with Love and Confidence; and Dr. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek a Professor in the Department of Psychology at Temple University and director of the Infant language Lab, author of many books including A Mandate for Playful Learning and Einstein Never Used Flash Cards (with Golinkoff and Eyer).
Each speaker is from our local community and engaged in compelling talks regarding the misguided removal of play and the negative consequences on health, learning and well being. Dr. Beresin made a pamphlet available entitled, If They Take Away Your Recess and It Makes You Really Mad for children and their parents. The circumstances for children were made perfectly clear – 40% of schools have dropped recess (including kindergarten), removal of recess being a common disciplinary measure, and cars are parked on the unused playgrounds at some schools.
Dr. Ginsburg concurred with Dr. Beresin: play is not an “extra”, it is essential to social, emotional, neurological development for children. We are taking away play to prepare our young people to be successful in the future. Dr. Ginsburg asked about the logic of making children miserable now so they will be successful later. Maybe we should be asking the question what is successful? If we define it as compassionate, creative, collaborative, using critical thinking, ability to communicate, resilient then taking away play is deeply inconsistent with our goals for the future.
Dr. Hirsh-Pasek called for us to reflect on the fact that 50% of high students in Philadelphia drop out of school, and 8 hours a week of free play time has been lost to children. What are children doing? Children 4 years of age spend 4 hours a day with screen time and children 8 years of age and older spend 8 hours a day in front of screens. We are laboring under the “learning illusion” she states, asking children to memorize facts, presuming it will get them and the country ahead. The reality is that our standing in the world in terms of achievement has dropped dramatically behind other countries who allow their children to play. Finland, a country that values play, is at the top of the list. In the private sector, in our own country we are creating tutoring businesses for pre-schools.
The evening stimulated much thought about how Philadelphia can join the national movement to improve the lives of children in our community. Fran Martin read The Philadelphia Declaration of Play and all participants signed it. The following week the committee along with supporters walked to a new playground carrying the Declaration to “Free Play on the Parkway,” a new pocket park created by Christine Piven and Catherine Barrett, and will to continue to take the message to City Hall. Two members of the committee, Meg Wise and Laurel Silber are delivering the signed Declarations to a Philadelphia City Council meeting on October 6th.
As a society we have collectively lost sight of what children need to grow and develop with a feeling of security. As a spokesperson on the mental health of children, Laurel Silber discussed the absence of play that is adding to the stress of children. Child advocates from mental health were encouraged to join in this multi-disciplinary effort to speak on behalf of children’s needs. For those interested in learning more, see the Facebook page, Philadelphia Declaration of Play, and you will witness the value of collaboration in action. As Corinne Masur of Philadelphia Center of Psychoanalysis, pointed out it is no coincidence that psychoanalytic organizations are involved in this issue because psychoanalysis has always valued play and recognized its value in understanding children. As Meg Wise, executive director at Smith pointed out this is a beginning, and we need your help to raise awareness and make real changes in the lives of children.
(L-R) Meg Wise, Corinne Masur, Fran Martin, Christine Piven, Laurel Silber, (also in the group Tyrone Scott