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Child's Play: Rediscovering the Joy of Play in Our Families and Communities    by Silken Laumann order for
Child's Play
by Silken Laumann
Order:  USA  Can
Random House, 2006 (2006)

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In Child's Play, four-time Olympian athlete Silken Laumann advocates, with energy and enthusiasm, for 'Rediscovering the Joy of Play in Our Families and Communities'. She reminds those of us old enough to remember those times (or lucky enough to still live in play-filled neighborhoods) that 'Kids used to live outside' and that keeping them indoors deprives them of an outlet that 'brings children joy, it nurtures and excites their creativity, it builds social skills and it strengthens their bodies. Play is the very best part of being a kid.'

Laumann makes the link between the transformation of play into sedentary screen time and the alarming increase in obesity of North American children - something that can be devastating to self-esteem as well as health. She makes the point that there is a window in the teen years when 'it is critical that children's growing bones are regularly stressed or loaded through physical activity.' She takes on the school system, commenting on the trend that has cut physical education from school budgets and given the job of teaching PE to generalist teachers, who are not trained to make it stimulating and fun. She shares her own experiences in training for the Olympics after serious injury, speaking of the power of dreams to fuel belief and catalyse change. She tells us that we rush around too much and over-structure kids' lives - 'We need to give ourselves permission to do less so we can do more' and just be with our kids.

Laumann advises parents to support each other more, with 'positive observations and generous praise' to reduce the isolation of modern-day parenting, that can make it such an overwhelming experience. She offers specific suggestions of 'Fun Things You Can Do With Your Family' from 'Kick a soccer ball' and 'Wrestle together' to 'Keep a balloon in the air'. Laumann gets into organized sports - when kids are cognitively ready for them, how high expectations can create a pressure cooker effect, and the importance of a fair coach. She gives examples of parents and teachers who have worked hard for better PE programs in their schools and communities, so that kids can burn off steam and restlessness and focus more on learning. She reminds us that school overemphasis on academics misses the point that regular exercise improves academic performance as well as fitness and confidence.

Laumann gives us advocacy from the heart - writing as a mother and an adult who works with kids, she tells us that 'small moments and simple actions and easy games fill our souls.' She encourages parents to work for change in neighborhoods and schools, offering specific suggestions on what to do (including how to play games like Turtle Tag and Hopscotch), and including many stories and case studies of activists across Canada and around the world - people who bring communities together to effect change. I hope that Child's Play inspires many more parents and educators to work at getting children away from their tv, videogame, and computer screens and back into active play with their peers.

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