________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 21 . . . . June 23, 2006


Child's Play: Rediscovering the Joy of Play in Our Families and Communities.

Silken Laumann.
Toronto, ON: Random House Canada, 2006.
311 pp., cloth, $29.95.
ISBN 0-679-31406-7.

Subject Headings:
Child development.
Child rearing.


Review by Ann Ketcheson.

**** /4


'Optimal development' refers to the full potential of both the physical and the mental growth of our children. To grow optimally means they are exhausted at the end of the day from using their bodies and feeling the wind and weather on their faces - not because they are crashing from a sugar and junk-food high, or because they are burdened with heavy, sluggish bodies, or because computer games or the TV has burned them out. It means they are tired from being kids all day! I believe every parent's desire is for their child to have a real childhood. A childhood filled with the joy of just playing. This belief is the inspiration for this book. And I believe we care enough to take action. It is up to each of us to help create a better world for our kids.

The subtitle of Child's Play expresses Silken Laumann's ideas in a nutshell: "Rediscovering the joy of play in our families and communities." Parents all want healthy and happy children, but, at the same time, statistics regarding obesity and depression in young people are on the rise. Rather than feeling this is a hopeless situation or a societal change which can't be altered, Laumann argues that parents can take small steps toward change in their families, their neighbourhoods, their communities - small steps which snowball into major improvements.

     Laumann recognizes that parents are busy. They may be competitive, pushing children into organized sport or art or music in order to give them a 'head start' for later life. She understands parental concerns about safety in neighbourhoods where, for the most part, everyone stays in their own home. Screens, either television or computer, are acknowledged as major thieves of children's free time.

     Laumann's response is for parents to put their children's health and physical fitness first. She suggests strict guidelines regarding television and computer use. As well, she discusses the advantages of activities which are fun and unscheduled as opposed to organized sports. One recommendation is that parents take turns supervising not just their own children, but others in the neighbourhood as well. This might take the form of walking a group to school, leading a bike ride, or supervising a group of kids playing games in the park. The advantages are twofold: children get fresh air and exercise while having fun, and parents get to know one another and develop a spirit of community. Laumann's ideas empower parents to take charge and change lives around them for the better.

     Although parents form the front line in Laumann's campaign, she clearly feels schools have a major role to play as well. She argues the need for more time each day for physical activity, whether in the school gym or in the playground in the form of tag, skipping games, and so on. Not surprisingly, Laumann has found many kids don't even know the games their parents played as children. Laumann points out that schools also should emphasize hiring qualified, well-trained PE teachers. Along with parents, schools can make a life-long impact on the physical health of students, while still being dedicated to their mental and emotional well-being.

     Laumann's examples tend to come from more privileged kids and neighbourhoods, but she maintains her theories of child's play will work anywhere. The book contains many interesting anecdotes about real people, and it is refreshing to read statistics which are Canadian and quotes from authorities in the field who are Canadian. Within the book is a page of reasons why kids play/drop out of sports as well as a list of questions to ask at a child's school in order to initiate discussion and, hopefully, change. Laumann also includes a chapter on "Games you can play" which details a variety of simple games and their rules, and a comprehensive list of resources. Interested readers can begin with her own websites: silkenlaumann.com and silkensactivekids.ca.

     Laumann's book tends to be rather repetitive, and her fame comes from being an Olympic athlete, not a prize-winning author. However, she is an inspiration and motivation, and her passion and enthusiasm for her cause result in an impressive call to action.

Highly Recommended.

Ann Ketcheson, a former teacher-librarian and teacher of high school English and French, lives in Ottawa, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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