BR one of 217 communities recognized for prioritizing play for children

Photo provided by the Mayor's Office.
Tuesday, May 7, 2013 - 3:00pm

With research proving play is critical to the overall well-being of children, 217 cities and towns, including Baton Rouge, earned recognition from national nonprofit KaBOOM! as 2013 Playful City USA communities for their efforts to give children the childhood they deserve by providing ample opportunities for play.

Today’s generation of children play less than any previous generation despite the vast benefits of play. The Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics reports that play is essential to the social, emotional, cognitive and physical well-being of children.

Sponsored by the Humana Foundation, Playful City USA is a national program from KaBOOM! that celebrates and promotes local policies that increase play opportunities for children and is a key platform in combating the lack of play among children.

Mayor-President Melvin L. “Kip” Holden said it’s an honor, but no accident that Baton Rouge was named a “Playful City USA” community.

“This designation fits perfectly with our city’s Healthy City Initiative, which targets childhood obesity by encouraging kids to eat healthier and exercise more. It’s also a testimony to the efforts of BREC, which is one of the top parks and recreation programs in the country, and to the local school system for recognizing the value of physical education,” Mayor Holden said.

Earlier this month, one of Mayor Holden’s Healthy City Initiative programs held training classes for 80 school teachers to prepare them for the East Baton Parish School District’s Wellness Policy, which included ways to integrate increased physical activity into the school day.

BREC Superintendent Carolyn McKnight said that East Baton Rouge Parish voters approved a ballot initiative in 2004 to expand and improve the local park system.

“Through our Imagine Your Parks Program, BREC has created 12 community parks to ensure that no matter where they are in East Baton Rouge Parish, every child is within 15 minutes of a park,” McKnight said.

“We are also using a significant portion of the funding for that program to improve neighborhood parks. With 184 parks across East Baton Rouge Parish, BREC is committed to doing everything we can to entice children outside so that they can reap the benefits of active, imaginative play,” McKnight added. “The addition of our mobile playground, BREC on the Geaux, will expand our ability to take fun and fitness straight to children who live in areas designated as food and play deserts in Baton Rouge.”

In recognizing Baton Rouge for its outstanding dedication to play, KaBOOM! applauded BREC’s efforts to increase access to play with the new BREC on the Geaux mobile recreation unit that will travel to high-need areas of the community throughout the week. The mobile unit will directly address the issue of areas lacking play opportunities for children and fill in gaps in East Baton Rouge Parish’s large network of parks.

KaBOOM!, the national non-profit organization dedicated to giving kids the childhood they deserve by bringing play to those who need it most, created Playful City USA in 2007 to help local governments address the lack of play and it is through mayors, city council members, parks and recreation departments, school districts and community leaders that the program succeeds in benefitting children.

“Kids need to play actively, every day, at home, in school and in their communities, yet play is disappearing,” said Darell Hammond, Founder and CEO of KaBOOM! and author of The New York Times Best Seller KaBOOM!: A Movement to Save Play. “Children spend nearly eight hours a day in front of a screen; almost half of all poor students are deprived of recess; and to make matters worse, only one in five children live within walking distance of a park. Playful City USA communities like Baton Rouge are creating innovative programs and initiatives and deserve recognition because of their efforts to give kids the childhood they deserve and best prepare them for their future.”

Florida paced the nation with 32 Playful City USA communities. California earned second-place with 26 communities, while Texas finished third with 15 Playful City USA communities.

Louisiana had a total of five cities deemed Play City USA communities, including Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Hammond, New Roads and DeRidder,

Each of the 2013 Playful City USA communities demonstrated creative commitments to addressing the lack of play among children. Playful City USA celebrates and highlights these unique initiatives developed by communities across the country. A primary goal of Playful City USA is to encourage cities and towns to share ideas, concepts and programs in an effort to increase play opportunities for children.

The 217 Playful City USA communities are now eligible for $15,000, $20,000 and $30,000 grants via Let’s Play, a community partnership led by Dr. Pepper Snapple Group to get kids and families active nationwide. Grant recipients will be announced in the fall.

For more information on the KaBOOM! Playful City USA program, including Let’s Play grants and applications for 2014, click here.

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