Most kids love to go to amusement parks -- especially at this time of year when it seems like school's never going to end. It's fun to daydream about racing down the Log Flume at King's Dominion or zooming through Thunder Mountain at Disney World.
What do amusement parks have to do with health? Have you ever heard the expression "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"? That old saying means that girls and boys need fun. Recreation is an important part of life. The word recreation even suggests that. It comes from the words that mean "to make over." When you have fun, you build yourself up again after hard work.
At many amusement parks, you have fun, but you don't get that much exercise. But some parks -- like Sesame Place in Langhorne, Pa., half an hour north of Philadelphia -- are designed for more active participation. This is the kind of amusement you'll find at Sesame Place, which is designed for families with children aged 3 to 13.
*Nets and Climbs. Kids climb and scramble through hundreds of yards of cargo netting connected by net tunnels suspended in the air. At the end, you reach a round lookout platform. You get to choose the direction you go in as you climb, reach and crawl toward the goal. That's a lot more exercise than you get sitting on a merry-go-round.
*The Count's Ballroom. Here kids and adults can swim, crawl and dive among 80,000 plastic balls on a trampoline-type foundation.
Sandra Hanna, director of education programs at Sesame Place, helped invent the activities in the park. She says that as she was doing it she thought about how inactive many kids lives are today. "Many children come home to an empty house when their parents are at work," she says. "They watch TV, or they fool around with the home computer. They're passive."
At Sesame Place, she says, the activities invite kids to take part in what she calls "holistic play." Holistic play takes care of the whole child. It involves your creative part -- the part of you that invents games, makes drawings, imagines fantastic advenures. It involves your physical self -- the part of you that runs, jumps, swims, and climbs. It involves your social side -- the part of you that talks with other people like your parents, brothers and sisters, and friends. And it involves your emotional side -- the part of you that feels. "If you involve three out of four, you're doing well," Hanna says of holistic games and activities.
Many amusement parks have trouble with kids and parents getting separated. At Sesame Place, you can meet yours at the "Lost Parents Center." It's a place for the whole family, but it's kid-centered. And you have to get involved to have fun. "Nothing at Sesame Place works unless you do it. Our exhibits and activities won't work if you just look at them. The park is designed to involve your parents, too. Everyone gets to play," Hanna says.
What kind of play is holistic play? A fifth-grader named Karen who lives in Washington does it when her cousins come to visit in the summer. They still play a game they invented several years ago. It's called "Bold Journey." Every time they play the game, the rules change a little bit. But the idea is that Karen and her companions are explorers. Wherever they are, whether it's the basement of their house, a mall or a park, they pretend that it's a brand new place that no one has ever seen before. As they explore, they talk about what they're discovering. Sometimes they use notebooks to take notes the way real explorers do.
Sandra Hanna would think this game was "holistic." The creative part is imagining what all the "new" things you're seeing are, and describing them. The physical part is the exploring -- especially if the game takes place outside. The social part is the conversation and cooperation among the different people playing the game.
Have you ever invented a holistic game? If you have, write a letter about it to Catherine O'Neill, Health Section, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. If your game sounds really fun, we'll publish it -- and your name -- in a column later this year.
Tips for Parents
Sesame Place is located in Langhorne, in Lower Bucks County, Pa., 30 minutes north of Philadelphia off Interstate 95. During the summer, the park is open daily. A single admission price of $10 per child and $8 per adult, plus tax, entitles visitors to all park activities except computer games, which require tokens. Admission goes up to $11 and $9 from July 1 through Aug. 31. Children 2 and under are admitted free. Nutritious food is available in the park -- no fried burgers and cotton candy here. Education director Sandra Hanna reports that one of the most popular snacks is the fresh vegetable pack. She suggests that visitors bring bathing suits, because many of the activities involve water. You can call Sesame Place for more information at 215-757-1100.