Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Largo event in March will get kids to 'Play Unplugged'

Lillian Belzel, 3, plays at Southwest Recreation Complex. Jennifer McMahon, manager of recreation based at Southwest, launches “Play Unplugged’’ in March.


Lillian Belzel, 3, plays at Southwest Recreation Complex. Jennifer McMahon, manager of recreation based at Southwest, launches “Play Unplugged’’ in March.

LARGO — Jennifer McMahon, recreation manager for the city of Largo, is serious about playtime. She's worried that in our daily lives, "play is just not a priority anymore.''

Kids aren't getting the basics of play these days, whether it's because of the popularity of electronic games and computers, the busy lifestyle of working parents or a matter of "stranger danger'' keeping many parents from letting their sons and daughters venture outdoors alone.

"We are not only worried about kids not developing because of lack of physical activity, but we're also aware that many of the young parents don't know how to teach them,'' McMahon said. "Instead of realizing the importance of wooden blocks or bouncing a ball, they rely on computers and gadgets.''

McMahon is coordinating a citywide initiative, "Play Unplugged.'' It is designed to help parents, caregivers and local service providers address the barriers and fears impeding children's free play.

The initiative kicks off with an event March 10 at Largo Central Park. With the help of Pop Up Adventure Play, a New York-based play advocacy organization, the park will be filled with hands-on-games, discovery stations and a plethora of recycled materials including old refrigerator boxes, pieces of old fabric and scraps of wood and paper.

Organizations like the Boy Scouts of America, which will be conducting tree climbing lessons, have been tapped to inspire and educate the community on how to facilitate play.

McMahon came up with the idea for the initiative after attending the U.S. Play Coalition's Conference on the Value of Play at Clemson University in South Carolina last February.

"(Play) is a hot topic, and the conference was academic in the sense that it presented research as well as the benefits of play to those who work with children,'' she said.

"Free play is different from things like sports teams or even our youth fitness classes,'' she said. "It's easier to tell a child to play in the park than go run a mile. The important thing is that you get the children active.''

Susan Weber, president of the Pinellas Early Childhood Association, is a key player in the March event. She and McMahon bumped into each other at the Clemson gathering, and it didn't take long before McMahon asked for her help.

Weber, who will be in charge of the creative play station, says she believes another reason free play is disappearing from the landscape is because of a push for academics at an earlier age.

"One of my real concerns is that in school, there is a bigger push for reading and writing at an earlier age, so what used to be done in kindergarten is now being done in pre-kindergarten. This means kids now have more desk time instead of simple free time."

Along with the large event on March 10, the following Monday, McMahon will hold a "train the trainer'' day for caregivers from day care centers throughout Pinellas County. The program will provide more discussion on free play.

Kerry Capristo, who has served as a preschool teacher at Southwest Recreation Complex for 19 years, plans on attending the events.

"It's a challenge for everybody. I see parents who are working hard to get their child to behave, and at the end of the week, if the child did what he was supposed to, I hear the parent say, 'Your reward is going home and playing your favorite video game.'

"I'd like it to be instead, 'Your reward is going home and taking a walk to the park.' "

And don't think "Play Unplugged'' will disappear after these events.

"For Largo summer camps, we are also using it as this year's theme," McMahon said. "We plan on continuing training for staff and the parents throughout the county. This will be ongoing.''

Piper Castillo can be reached at (727) 445-4163 or To write a letter to the editor, go to

ast facts

Play Unplugged

So far, $12,500 has been collected in sponsorships for the Largo initiative "Play Unplugged.'' Groups participating include the Tampa Bay Rays, the Mike Alstott Foundation, the Suncoast Osteopathic Foundation, the Pinellas County Health Department and Myrtle Avenue Pediatrics. If you'd like to become a sponsor for the March 10 event at Largo Central Park, call Jennifer McMahon at Southwest Recreation Complex, (727) 518-3095.

Largo event in March will get kids to 'Play Unplugged' 01/13/12 [Last modified: Friday, January 20, 2012 11:56am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Marijuana extract sharply cuts seizures in severe form of epilepsy


    An oil derived from the marijuana plant sharply reduces violent seizures in young people suffering from a rare, severe form of epilepsy, according to a study published last week that gives more hope to parents who have been clamoring for access to the medication.

  2. 'I ain't fit to live': Police say Mississippi gunman kills 8


    BROOKHAVEN, Miss. — A man who got into an argument with his estranged wife and her family over his children was arrested Sunday in a house-to-house shooting rampage in rural Mississippi that left eight people dead, including his mother-in-law and a sheriff's deputy.

    People embrace Sunday outside the Bogue Chitto, Miss., house where eight people were killed during a shooting rampage Saturday in Lincoln County, Miss.
  3. Kushner's Russia ties questioned as Trump cites media 'lies'


    WASHINGTON — Congressional Democrats on Sunday demanded to hear directly from top White House adviser Jared Kushner over allegations of proposed secret back-channel communications with Russia, saying the security clearance of President Donald Trump's son-in-law may need to be revoked.

  4. Muslims thankful for support after rant, deadly attack


    PORTLAND, Ore. — Muslims in Portland, Ore., thanked the community for its support and said they were raising money for the families of two men who were killed when they came to the defense of two young women — one wearing a hijab — who were targeted by an anti-Muslim rant.

    Jeremy Christian is accused of killing 2 men who stepped in as he berated two women.
  5. Following Trump's trip, Merkel says Europe can't rely on U.S. anymore


    LONDON — German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday declared a new chapter in U.S.-European relations after contentious meetings with President Donald Trump last week, saying that Europe "really must take our fate into our own hands."

    German Chancellor Angela Merkel, shown speaking with President Trump last week, says Europe “must take our fate into our own hands.”