Your Right to Play Outside

25th August, 2010 - Posted by - 11 Comments

It is a happy talent to know how to play.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

what time is it?

As the recognition of the need for children to play outside and connect with nature grows, municipalities and organizations around the country are creating Bill of Rights campaigns to help raise awareness and get kids off the couch and outside. (Examples include California and Maryland.)

As a writer and speaker, I often discuss Can’t Miss Childhood Moments, helping adults remember happy memories of their own childhood play, and discussing the fact that many of today’s kids are missing out on simple joys to be found outdoors.

So, my challenge to you is this: Create a Play Bill of Rights for yourself.

No really, I’m serious.

We can’t say, “Go outside and play,” or model healthy, play-filled lifestyles  if the only thing we ever do is work or spend time plugged into our electronic devices. Well, we can, but it won’t be nearly as effective, and could lead to resentment and fights.

Besides, more play time for us adults benefits children in so many ways — but that’s another blog post altogether!

To help get your juices flowing, I am sharing a few of my “play rights” below. But please, come-up with whatever feels right for you.

And have FUN with it! Go nuts!

I have the right to:

  • Unplug at least an hour a day and do something that makes me happy
  • Walk barefoot and not care about how dirty my feet are
  • Walk in the woods and forget everything and everyone and just enjoy the sounds of nature
  • Giggle and clap my hands at the new crop of baby ducks each year, and generally act like a 5 year-old
  • Think that nothing tastes better than an orange popsicle eaten while sitting in the shade of a favorite tree on a hot summer day

What it boils down to is this: I have the right to LIVE. To play, and laugh, and leave the dishes in the sink sometimes — and so do you.

I would love to hear what some of your rights are, so please share a few in the comments section!

Now, if you will excuse me, there is an orange popsicle in the freezer with my name on it. I have a grape one too, if you care to join me. We’ll take a walk and talk about how we really need to do this more often…

:-) Bethe

Bethe Almeras, MS, is the HSBS Education & Outreach Director. A long time educator and play advocate, she is passionate about outdoor play and connecting children with nature. In her free time Bethe writes a blog, The Grass Stain Guru, and can often be found playing outside. She is particularly fond of squirrels. And turtles. And sand pipers. And…

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August 25th, 2010 at 1:37 pm    

Love the post today!

I have a question for you… Since playing OUTSIDE is harmful to my developmentally delayed, medically fragile child’s health, can you make suggestions on healthy, balanced Indoor Play alternatives? So much of what we do indoors is “plugged in”, *sighs*!

As a family, we are concerned with not only our son’s health, but maintaining a healthy indoor environment, being good to the world environment, and balancing play/therapy/education, etc (which all occur at home). Technology is a large part of learning as well as play for our son…which is probably a good thing as sometimes he doesn’t realize he is learning as much as he thinks he is “just playing”! :) But, I’m concerned about how much computer time, for example is TOO MUCH!

Any thoughts or ideas are appreciated!

Thanks again for the reminder to let my mind relax at times and just enjoy!


August 25th, 2010 at 2:20 pm    

Thanks for the really personal comment. Hard to say w/o more info on your child, but I can give you some general info.

I started out my career at Easter Seals camps, where we had a lot of medically fragle children w/ & w/o developmental delays, and outdoor play and time in nature was vital for those children as well — just with necessary adjustments as needed.

Obviously, technology (and assitive technology) plays a role in life, but balance is key. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no TV for children under two. I would extend that to screentime. Overall, limiting screen time is important for all children regardless of ability. American preschoolers spend 32 hours a week in front of screens, while school-aged children spend 7.5 hours a day. This is not recommended for a variety of reasons (eye sight, brain development, psycho/social issues and more), as well as simply estblishing healthy preferences that will last a lifetime.

Regardless of a child’s age, developmental stage, etc. child-initiated play, movement opportunities, cooperative and social play, and more need to be established for all children from the onset. As you stated in your commnt, children do learn through play.

Typically OT, PT, RT and other therapies that a child receives in the home or a school-based setting will be play-based, which is developmentally appropriate.

I think reading the Playwork Primer would give you a lot of background on play benefits and more. You can find it here:

As for too much? The younger the child, the lesser the screen time — but even in older children, it should be limited.

Hope this helps! :-)


August 25th, 2010 at 2:54 pm    

I love this post, Bethe! I’m going to post my own bill of rights some time in the near future. Thanks for reminding us just how important it is to do this!


August 26th, 2010 at 3:01 am    

Bethe, fab post on a play bill of rights. Here are mine and I’m going to ask my two bambini for theirs as well.

1. I have the right to believe in fairies and dragons and to go hunting for them whenever I wish.
2. I reserve the right to play in a sandpit whenever the mood takes me.
3. I have the right to fight with my kids over the last strawberry on the plant.
4. I have the right to dance under giant sunflowers.
5. Take time out in our local Botanic Garden.

Mike Lanza

August 26th, 2010 at 8:08 pm    

Here’s something relevant I posted on a few months ago:

My Goal
I want my kids to play outside with other neighborhood kids every day.
I want them to create their own games and rules.
I want them to play big, complex games with large groups of kids, and simpler games one-on-one with a best friend.
I want them to decide for themselves what to play, where, and with whom.
I want them to settle their own disputes with their friends.
I want them to create their own private clubs with secret rules.
I want them to make lasting physical artifacts that show the world that this is their place.
I want them to laugh and run and think.
Every day.

That’s what I had. It’s my standard for a good childhood. It’s my goal for my kids.

Juliet (aka CreativeSTAR)

August 26th, 2010 at 8:49 pm    

Indoors or out, children need to have fun and find ways to work through and make sense of the world around them.

Renee – just ensure your child has time to play with you, with others in a way which meets his interests and needs. It’s hard to know what to advise specifically as we just don’t know you or your son.

Live, love, laugh

Marghanita Hughes

August 26th, 2010 at 11:09 pm    

I love this idea Bethe.

There is nothing more natural to me than being outdoors with my kids. I live for the outdoors, whether it is a short bike ride or a long hike in the hills or just sitting on the grass appreciating nature’s chorus. I am a huge believer in leading by example.

Being a Mother Butterfly, I get to act like a kid a lot and I couldn’t be happier.

Thanks for a great post.


August 27th, 2010 at 12:27 am    

Caro — I LOVE your list!!

Mike, thanks for sharing.

Marghanita — you are the head butterfly! :o )


September 3rd, 2010 at 6:17 am    

glad i found your post, needed to be reminded that the fight i am in with our schoolboard over recess is so important. i think there is so much that children gain from being outdoors and i have never been so vocal nor passionate about anything. i plan to read a bit more since i just discovered you tonight, and i would of course love any insight to more research or help in how to appeal to a school district that has said the state doesnt mandate it and they are doing what by law is required (15 min a day total for all grades, k-5), i feel so bad for my kindergartener who is squashed into a classroom for almost 7 hours a day, when there is so much childhood he is missing out on, sorry like i said this just stirs me from deep within. it would be easy to yank my kids from school and homeschool, but that sure doesnt seem fair to all the kids that come from apartments or are latch key kids who dont get the benefit of being outside anywhere else but school, we want to be a positive voice of change in our community.


September 3rd, 2010 at 11:36 am    

Fight on, Sarah! There are a lot of great resources out there for the pro-recess movement. Good luck!

Bob Wattendorf

October 9th, 2010 at 9:45 pm    

Florida also has a Children’s Bill of Rights passed by the Governor and Cabinet and sponsored by Get Outdoors Florida!.

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