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Time to play, but only if parents plan it

School's out for summer but are summer camps the only thing in?
School's out for summer but are summer camps the only thing in?

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Schools are out for summer; a time for children to relax, have fun and explore - or is it? Summer vacations have become a revolving door of summer camps, art or sports classes, play dates and more. Yet none of these activities involve playing unsupervised in the neighborhood and beyond with friends.

The summer camps of days past involved going no further than the local park or to the backyard of neighbor, returning home in time for dinner. Have we become so concerned with the risk of sexual predators and children hurting themselves that the joy of unstructured play is being removed from childhood?

From the phones:

Stephanie in Venice said that the world is a lot more dangerous than it was before, and she's wary where she allows her kids to play.

"It's not as safe as it used to be in the '70s and '80s. You can't trust anybody. My children can do the play, but they have to be in the confines of our backyard, and [friends] need to come to our house. We will send our children to a week-long camp, but it's a half day."

David called from Culver City, saying that he thinks children are actually safer. "With all the new cell phones and GPS technology, it's actually a little bit safer for kids to be out, riding around, doing what they want in the daytime. Their parents can easily keep tabs on them."

Joe from Northridge called in, saying parents should do more than know of their children's whereabouts. He encourages his 8- and 12-year-old stepchildren to get outside more often, to enjoy the type of childhood make believe games he grew up with.

"Nowadays the kids are so stuck inside playing video games and watching television for hours and hours and hours," he described. "Some days the kids will sit inside for six hours playing video games, and I would urge them to go outside, and when I finally get them to go outside, they're very bored because they've had a lack of development of that type of play."

Tom, a little league baseball coach in Palos Verdes, shared that it helped to instill ideas for summer activities in the team's heads.

"The kids are so structured now growing up, even as 10-year-olds, playing a sport year round," he explained. "The head coach had the bright idea to introduce them to games that we used to play as kids, whether it was on the ball field or just in someone's yard. Their view was 'Oh, well I can't [play baseball], so I'll just play videogames.' But you can get three or four kids and play 'hit the bat,' or get six kids and play 'over the line.'"

Collin in Boyle Heights said children aren't staying in because they lack creativity.

"I've noticed that there's this kind of duality with kids now. Our children have access to computers and the Internet, and they're curious, they're very curious. They explore the world through their computers, but they don't go outside and explore their neighborhood," he continued.

Hilary in Irvine said some parents don't give children the chance for adequate free play. She warns about over-programming activities, camps and classes into a child's summer schedule.

"There's so much hype on summer learning loss, so much fear that they're kids are going to stay at home, that there are so many more opportunities than we had," she said. "The chances of running around, and being in sprinklers, and eating popsicles and going to the park nowadays are lost. ... It scares me a little that we don't let our children have downtime and let them play in the neighborhood, and do the things that we used to do, like seeking adventure in our own backyards.


What did you do during the summer vacation as a child? Do children lose out today because they're not encouraged to play independently? As a parent, under what conditions do you let your children play outside without supervision? With the holidays stretching out for weeks, is planning lots of activities a way to keep children out of your way?

What will you do with the kids this summer? Be a news source for KPCC.