Kids, Community and Kauai

by DavalosMcCormack on May 29, 2009

Next time you are at the park or the beach or just walking around your local shopping mall take a look around you at the kids. What do you see? I’m guessing that you’ll see a huge number of kids who are either overweight or downright obese. In some places it may be much harder to find a kid who is normal weight than it is to find a chunky child.

All that struck me as Shirley and I were in Hawaii on our recent vacation, not because the kids we saw were fat, but because so many of the ones we saw weren’t. It got me to wondering why, and if the answer to that couldn’t help kids nationwide.

One evening we were at a bar-b-q at the beach with some local families and it was fascinating to see their kids, mostly boys, just running around for hours, playing, fishing, swimming, and generally just goofing about.

It reminded me that that was how most people used to grow up. That for generations children were able to run around and play in their own neighborhoods. In some cases, in some places, kids can still do that but for most children today, living in the city or the suburbs, that’s just not possible. There’s too much traffic on the streets, too few parks or other safe places to play.

That lack of freedom to just run around is one of the reasons why so many children today are struggling with their weight (though obviously diet plays a big role too). It may also be one of the reasons why we have seen an increase in the number of kids diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder) in recent years.

Think about it. If children don’t have the opportunity to run around and burn off all their excess energy it gets channeled into other things, other ways. One of those may well be acting out, one of the critical factors in getting a child diagnosed as ADHD.

On Kauai the kids have plenty of room and even more opportunity to run around. They can play soccer, swim, surf, run, run, and run some more. In essence they were able to just be kids.

Clearly it’s not possible to replicate those conditions in cities and suburbs throughout the country but maybe there is something we can do to help increase the opportunities for children to get exercise, and along the way to help boost community spirits in economically depressing times.

In cities around the U.S. tens of thousands of homes are in foreclosure, in many cases they are derelict and ready to be pulled down. Instead of leaving those soon-to-be-empty plots to grow grass and get decrepit, why not turn them into play areas for children? After the houses are torn down and the lot is empty, the area could be turned into places where children can play and run and burn off steam and calories at the same time.

Clearly there isn’t much money around to do this but it wouldn’t take that much, and perhaps instead of relying on the city or county or state to provide the funding, the local community could do it themselves. People in the neighborhood could work together to provide the labor to dig up these abandoned pieces of land, to turn them into places that were big enough to allow kids to play.

They wouldn’t need to be fancy. They wouldn’t need to have equipment. They wouldn’t need to be pretty. They just need to be safe.

Right now there are a lot of people out of work, people who are struggling to find purpose in their daily activities. Helping out with a project like this could give them a sense of value, a sense they are contributing something to the community, while they look for work.

It could do something equally valuable too. It could give kids their childhood back.

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