Homer Alaska - Opinion

Story last updated at 3:39 PM on Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Play: It's a child's most important work


There's nothing like elbow grease and enthusiasm to motivate others to join a good cause, and those behind the Homer Playground Project, or HoPP, are drumming up support by exhibiting both in good measure.

HoPP is a volunteer-led effort to improve and enlarge the existing playground at Karen Hornaday Park, Homer's largest city park. The vision is that the new playground will be a mix of traditional play equipment, like swings and slides, and natural features, such as boulders, mounds, logs and stepping stones that not only connect kids with nature, but spark their imaginations. The plan is for users of the playground — kids — and other community members to help design the playground. Community volunteers will help build it.

The design phase kicks off this week with John Dean of Play By Design an Ithaca, N.Y., company specializing in community-built playgrounds.

Dean is in Homer this week to visit with the community about the park. He'll be working with artists, builders, designers, educators, city officials, other community members — and, perhaps most importantly, kids — on a draft design for the playground.

The draft playground design can be viewed at the New Playground Kick-Off Party at Karen Hornaday Park on Saturday from 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. The party includes:

• 11:30 a.m. - 1:15 p.m.: food and games, including hot dogs and salmon on the grill, local veggies, face painting, fortune telling, a bouncey house and a dunk tank with "celebrity victims."

• 1:15-2 p.m.: Program and address by John Dean.

• 2-3 p.m.: Music by Rufaro, Homer's youth marimba band.

The new playground is a motherhood and apple pie issue. How can anyone oppose a better play area for the community's youngest residents — especially when it's being led by volunteers.

But it's not just about having safe equipment for the kids to play on, it's also a statement about how the community values its young people and how it wants to create the healthiest future possible for them.

As it turns out, active, outdoor play is crucial to the health and well-being of the young. Research shows that play is not only good for the body, but it's critical for the mind, as well. Not only is play needed to help combat the growing obesity problem among this nation's youth, but play helps kids learn; it teaches important social skills; it aids a child's emotional development.

A well-designed, well-built playground is not just a joy to children, it's a reflection of the character of the community. As HoPP organizers write: "It helps a community raise happy, healthy kids. It makes the community more attractive to residents and visitors, whether they have kids or not. It's a sign that a community cares about kids and families and cares about its future."

Other communities who have undertaken similar projects also report that it brings residents of all ages together in a fun way, creating lasting bonds that otherwise might never have been forged.

HoPP organizers are spreading the message: "It takes a community to build a great playground." There are all kinds of ways to get involved, attending Saturday's Kick-Off Party is a good start.