Amy Baskin Family park nights a great way to get out and play

It has been a long cold winter, and families are eager to get outside and play. Early Childhood Family Education encourages you to take some time to play with your children. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth. Play also offers an ideal opportunity for parents to engage fully with their children. Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity and physical, cognitive and emotional strengths.

I remember as a child spending every waking hour outside playing with friends. We climbed hills, rode bikes and explored the neighborhood. We made up games and the rules that governed the games. Sometimes the rules changed, sometimes we had conflict, but we were always able to resolve the conflict and come out again the next day to start new. Neither our parents nor we had any idea that what we were doing was helping us develop a variety of skills that would serve us in later years.

Today’s children don’t have the same opportunities to engage in free play. Hurried lifestyles, changes in family structures and increased attention to academics and enrichment activities have reduced the amount of time spent at free child-centered play. Today’s children spend more time in front of televisions or video games than they do outside. Their lives are scheduled and structured with adult-coordinated activities. All of these factors have left today’s children less prepared to deal with the pressures of adolescence and adult life.

What is the solution? Unfortunately there is no right answer. Families have different needs, and children have different opportunities. Successful strategies lie within the family. They are rooted in the deep connection that develops when parents engage with their children. Play remains an ideal venue for parents to engage fully. Some play must remain entirely child-driven, with parents either not present or as passive observers, because play builds some of the individual assets children need to develop and remain resilient. Parents need to feel supported to not passively accept the media and advertising messages that suggest there are more valuable means of promoting success and happiness in children than the tried, trusted and traditional methods of play and family togetherness.

To encourage family play, ECFE is sponsoring three family park nights. We invite you to come and enjoy an evening of networking, free play and family time. Each night occurs at one of Austin’s family friendly parks. Families are responsible for bringing their own dinner. Before and after dinner, children are free to play with each other or with their parents in a play area that is safe and specially designed for family play. Families have an opportunity to meet new friends, connect with old friends and explore something new and exciting. Best of all, children will be learning and developing skills.


Please join us at one of our family park nights this spring. Each park night begins at 5 p.m. In the event of inclement weather, the event is canceled. For more details, call 433-0973. Park events will occur:

  • April 24 — Community Bandshell Park, First Street and Ninth Place Southwest.
  • April 30 — Woodson Kindergarten Center, 1601 Fourth St. S.E.
  • May 5 — Municipal Park, Main Street and Fourth Avenue Northeast.

Whether you join ECFE at a park night or plan family play on your own, take time to enjoy your children. You will all be glad you did.
Amy Baskin is community education director at Austin Public Schools.

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