Followers of my blog know that I am an advocate for free and unstructured outdoor play. Luckily, I live in Athens with an ideal climate for the great outdoors. And although you may think of Athens as a busy and dusty city, it actually has plenty of green and lots of playgrounds.
The importance of outdoor play
Many parents today spent their children riding their bikes and playing games like baseball or dodgeball on side streets and in neighbors’ backyards or on the streets. Many children today spend much of their time indoors, playing games on their tablets or watching television. The American Academy of Pediatrics says lots of unstructured outdoor play is critical to the health of children, though many have experienced a marked decline in the time they spend in free play. Outdoor play gives children the opportunity to run, jump, climb, and more, all of which provide aerobic exercise and strength training. The outdoor play also strengthens the immune system and improves vitamin D levels, which can provide protection from osteoporosis and health conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes. It is recommended that children get moderate to vigorous activity that adds up to at least an hour per day. And did you know that outdoor play can also reduce stress?! Children can also experience stress or suffer from conditions like depression or anxiety. These issues are becoming more common for today’s children, who have busy schedules with school and extracurricular activities. Physical activity in the form of outdoor play can help kids to reduce this stress. Outdoor play is also important for intellectual and social development. outdoor play has been shown to help children focus better in a classroom setting and to enhance readiness for learning, easing the transition to school. Outdoor play also encourages learning and problem-solving skills, which can help children perform better in the classroom. Unstructured outdoor play also promotes creativity, which children can apply to their academic learning, helping them see the material in another way. Outdoor play also gives children opportunities to learn how to work in groups, including learning how to share, how to negotiate and how to resolve conflicts. And whilst the children are playing, parents have a chance to meet other parents and to socialize too!
Playgrounds are free and available everywhere
So let’s reinvent play and head out to the nearest playground. It is free and available! Not only the green Athenian suburbs provide playgrounds. Every neighborhood, every square and every district, inside the city center, offers some kind of playground or play area with toys and green. Most of them are fenced and some have guards too. Because of the warm weather and the long summer night evenings, the playgrounds in Athens usually offer a water faucet and evenings lights. Most have soft flooring in the shape of rubber tiles or sand. The Athenian municipality has recently placed signs at most of the city playgrounds with opening/closing hours and a contact number to report any broken or unsafe toys. Some Athenian playgrounds are huge and next to the sea. Others, such as the playgrounds in the expat neighborhood of Filothei pictured below are hidden away in green offering lots of shade in summer
Interactive Database of Playgrounds by Little City Spots
Little City Spots created an English language database with playgrounds for larger Attica: Athens, Pireas, Herakleio, Moschato, Chalandri, Chaidari, Agia Paraskevi, Petroupoli, Kifissia, Drapetsona, Nikeia and Marousi are already represented. And more playgrounds are being added. On the website, you will real and up to date photos and important information about the playground. Is there a place to ride a bicycle? are there baby swings? You can also comment your own experiences about a playground and help other parents. Go to the Little City Spots, click on the English language page, fill out your location and find your nearest playground. Once there, you can easily upload photos and comments directly from your cell phone. If you sign up for the page, you get automatically informed about new things to do in your area.