In the era of electronic games and DVDs, playing outside has become a lost art for many children, especially in urban areas. A former school teacher believes in the benefits of old-fashioned play, though, and encourages kids and adults to do it as a regular part of their lives. The 'Play Lady' organizes regular Play Days in the Washington suburbs.
On a recent Sunday afternoon, a street in a neighborhood outside Washington has been closed to traffic and transformed into a playground. Children and adults of all ages came outside.
"That is my exercise. It is a gorgeous day. So we come out to play. I like to play. We all love to play. That's why we are here,” said Ping Fahn, a Takoma park resident.
It is play day in Takoma Park, Maryland, hosted by longtime resident Pat Rumbaugh and her volunteer group. Rumbaugh founded Takoma Plays five years ago.
“We invite everyone, not only residents in Takoma Park, but people beyond. Because really what we care about is encouraging everyone to play,” she said.
Rumbaugh is known as 'The Play Lady' in the neighborhood. She recently retired, after teaching physical education at a Washington high school for 30 years. She said people deserve to play every day, especially if they work hard.
“Recent research does show that society, people in general, would feel so much better if they play. When people play they are less stressed, they are happier, they are more content with life," said Rumbaugh.
She said children benefit the most from unstructured, or free play.
“Children learn to get along with one another, they learn to negotiate, they learn to be kind. Children learn new experiences, they learn how to play new games,” said Rumbaugh.
And they get to make up new adventures, costumed in clothes donated by neighbors.
Three kids play pirate in dress-up clothes.
“That is treasure, right?" asked one.
“Right,” confirmed another.
"Where did you find the treasure?" asked a reporter.
“When we sunk to the bottom of the ocean,” said one kid.
“So we’ve got a new ship, right?”
“When they play with dress-up clothes, they become creative and imaginative, which they may not have tried before,” said Rumbaugh.
Takoma Park resident Tony Castleman brought his two young sons out to play.
“They are both enjoying it. I think it is nice for kids to [have] this type of good old-fashioned play. Often times these days activities are very structured a lot of times, based on electronics and something like that,” he said.
Castleman said it also helps neighbors get to know one another better.
“I think it is a great way for the neighborhood just to sort of bond and to spend time together,” he said.
Jamie Raskin, who represents Takoma Park in the Maryland state Senate, also thinks it's a great idea.
“I think it can be reproduced in cities and towns all over the state and across the country eventually. But it really does take people in the neighborhood to get out and invite kids to come play,” said Raskin.
This is Rumbaugh's next big goal.
"I decided that I would form a non-profit called Let’s Play America that helps facilitate play in communities, towns, cities all over America,” she said.
Rumbaugh hopes schools embrace the initiative and that everyone in the country makes time to play and enjoys the benefits.