When Giving Together members decided to fund a KaBOOM! sports court in 2019 as a special 10th-anniversary project, we may not have guessed how much impact this could have. The fourth GT education event (“Sports, Play and Social Change”), on June 6 at KaBOOM!, provided some new lessons about “the serious benefits of having fun”. The informal seminar featured two speakers who described recent research and experiences confirming that opportunities for safe, diverse sports and playtimes are often lacking for low-income families and especially, for homeless children. Yet sports and playtime are essential to physical and mental health and aid in recovery from trauma; they can also help build community, family and personal relationships.
Jenny DeMarco, the Project Manager for GT’s sports court project, welcomed the group and invited us to share memories of our favorite sports as children. She then introduced Risa Isard, Associate Director for Thought Leadership at KaBOOM!, who presented some of the key findings and recommendations of the Aspin Institute’s State of Play reports (major outputs of AI’s Sports and Society Program). The studies have shown that while 70% of mothers surveyed say they played outside as children, only 31% of their children do today. More than a third of children get no recess in their school day; recess is cut out more than other extracurricular activities in school; and high-poverty elementary schools are 4-5 times more likely to have no recess than those with lowest shares of poverty.
Physically active parents typically have physically active kids—fueling a virtuous cycle of intergenerational benefits including physical and mental health, academic achievement, and economic productivity. But too many children are left on the sidelines, especially due to socioeconomic disadvantage. Consistently, studies show that 30% of kids aged 6-12 with family incomes below $25K, and 25% of those in the $25K-$49K range, have no engagement in sport activity in a year—contrasted with only 10% of children in households with income above $100K. Family income is the greatest driver of children’s early and frequent access to sports.
The State of Play studies recommend numerous measures, both in public policy and private practice, to address this “unfair playing field” for children. Several of these elements are integral to KaBOOM!’s approach, including: making sports facilities and playgrounds more geographically accessible to low-income neighborhoods (children living within 1 mile of a sports court are 4 times more likely to use it, not requiring special transportation); encouraging “sports sampling” through the multi-sports court model; and putting communities and children in charge (the Community Partner and Design Day features).
The second speaker, Jamila Larson, Executive Director of The Homeless Children’s Playtime Project, explained that she co-founded the organization in 2003 because children are an increasing share of the homeless population but their needs have been severely underserved. Homelessness is typically viewed as a housing issue, not as a child development crisis, yet 800 children are living in motels in the District with virtually no facilities in place to enable them to play. The Playtime Project brings toys, games and trained volunteers into the shelters to provide a regular safe environment for play, using trauma-informed approaches that help the children cope with adverse experiences and build resilience.
During the rich discussion over wine and snacks, some of the GT members in attendance shared personal stories of children they observed benefiting from playtime and sports opportunities, especially children with special emotional and learning needs. Others noted they’d grown up pre-Title IX and probably had less experience with formal sports than many girls today. Instead, they recalled how they enjoyed more free-play outdoors than is typical for children now, whose time is often more supervised and structured and heavily occupied by digital activities.
Please click here to watch a five-minute video about the Homeless Children’s Playtime Project. https://youtu.be/TwRN1rWvHFw
Please click here to view the KaBOOM! slide show about the importance of play for all children.