As a child, my neighborhood was known as a place where children met in a vacant lot and played all day long. Most of the games we played did not require any specific equipment or space. Some of those games included hide & seek, catch the flag, Red Rover, tag games, hula hoop games, climbing trees, making kites, etc. We have probably forgotten more of the games than we could ever remember. Our neighborhood children would meet early in the morning and play until late at night. Our parents had a hard time getting us to stop playing long enough to eat. We were all anxious to get outside and play with our friends.

Have those days been lost? Do the children in 2009 experience that same opportunity? If not, there is still time to instill the value of play in our children. It is the fear of some of the professionals in parks and recreation that the element of unstructured play is more difficult to see in our children. We have grown so accustomed to having organized sports and games that just going out to the open field to have some fun can be a lost art. As the City of Springdale researched the value of play and learned about the KaBoom organization and its emphasis on unstructured play, it became obvious that we needed to pursue becoming a Playful City USA community. As a result of diligence work from our Playful City Committee, our City Council members, and our City staff, Springdale became the first city in Arkansas to receive this designation. Later this summer, the first annual Play Day affiliated with this designation will take place.

One of the requirements for obtaining the KaBoom national recognition as a Playful City USA community is to provide a Play Day for children. Even though this appears to be a “no brainer”, today’s children miss opportunities to have unstructured play the prior generation might have experienced. Therefore, organizing a day for children to come out and play is extremely important for our youth.

The City of Springdale is planning their first community-wide play day for August 22, 2009. This event will involve several departments within the City such as the Fire Department, Police Department, Animal Services, and Parks/Recreation Department. One of the major sponsors for this event is the Springdale Chamber of Commerce as well as the Jones Center for Families. This play day is being organized by the Playful City Committee composed of business leaders, government officials, and interested citizens.

This event will provide a variety of activities to ensure attendees will really enjoy being here. The Play Day will be held at Murphy Park near the center of the city. Fun activities will begin at noon for children in kindergarten through fifth grades. Games played in old-time picnics will be part of this day and everyone will have a chance to experience other activities too. There will be two concerts provided by local bands with the big concert starting at 5pm. Following that concert, the Springdale Aquatic Center will open from 7pm-9pm. There will be no charge to enter the Aquatic Center during those specific times. To conclude the day of events, a movie in the park will be shown.

Not only is this the first annual Play Day, but the events planned are for the entire family. This will be a fun-packed day like none other that has been offered in Springdale. The first 500 children to register on that day for this event will receive numerous coupons from businesses in the area. Also, the elementary school with the most attendees will receive a grand prize.

Volunteers from several of the school athletic teams as well as church groups will help lead the activities and play the games with the children. If you are in the Springdale area on August 22, 2009, please come and join us for a day of fun at Murphy Park. This event will be free to everyone and we encourage your attendance. For more information concerning this event or how to become a Playful City USA community, contact the Springdale Parks and Recreation Department.

It is time to step up and recognize the value of play in our communities. It is also time to instill the values of play in our youth before those values disappear.

About the Author

Dr. Rick McWhorter is the Director of Springdale Parks and Recreation. He has worked in the parks and recreation profession since 1975 both in the area of city parks and recreation as well as being a faculty member in parks and recreation for two different universities. Dr. McWhorter has been an active member of the Arkansas Recreation and Parks Association and currently serves on the ARPA Board of Directors. He received his Doctorate of Education in Recreation Administration from the University of Georgia.