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Play Again: A Resource for Getting Kids Outside

“To picture myself without my phone would be depressing. I’d feel lonely,” 13-year-old Taylor shares about her dependency on personal electronics. Thousands of texting teens would agree with this statement.  In this generation, with so much information and entertainment at one’s fingertips, is playtime in the natural world becoming obsolete?

At Hawaii Outdoors Institute, we strongly disagree.  There must be a way to balance the benefits of technology with the benefits of fresh air, green trees, and wild places.  Meg Merrill, producer of the film Play Again, shares this philosophy and she and her team are working to get the discussion going around the world through this thought-provoking documentary.

Play Again is a film that documents the experiences of six tech-loving teenagers on a camping adventure away from their favorite screens. When they return home, they are challenged to avoid technology for as long as they can, with varying results. The film also features commentary from well-known environmentalists and psychologists as they discuss the need for nature as part of a healthy childhood. The cinematography is breath-taking, and when juxtaposed with glimpses of the virtual world many children are immersed in, the contrast can be a bit unsettling.

How many children are truly oblivious to the plants and critters in their own backyards?  For those growing up in a landscape of concrete, what nature is there for them to bond with? Does any of this matter? These questions and more are discussed in this film, which can serve as a catalyst for discussion with children in their families and with their schoolmates. For information on when or where this film is being aired near you, or to purchase the DVD, go to playagainfilm.com.

For Parents: This film is suitable for most children, but there is one scene that shows a brief violent image from a video game. It may be inappropriate for children under age 10 or so, but you can watch it first yourself to be sure.  It is probably the most beneficial for middle school and high school-aged children, especially those who you feel get a bit too much screen time.  It can also prepare a teenager for a Hawaii Outdoors Institute course where they will turn in their electronics in order to tune in to the natural world.

For Educators: As a high school educator, I have shown this film as part of a unit on Romantic Literature for high school seniors.  After studying the poetry of Wordsworth, Byron, and Shelley and discussing the themes of nature vs. industrialization, the film was an excellent way to connect the students to these “dead white guys” who were actually quite prophetic in their thinking. This is just one of many ways to link this film to what your students are learning. The “Activities for Educators” guide contains helpful ideas on how to discuss the film with students of all ages.  After watching the film, I assigned my students to spend time in their favorite natural place and then write a “Reflection on Nature;” incorporating a few of the questions on page 5 of the teacher’s guide as prompts.  I was impressed by their responses. One teen mom vowed to play outside more with her daughter. One pre-engineering student defended his use of technology but claimed he balanced his life by free-diving and spending time in the ocean.  It definitely made my students think, which was my main goal.

Technology is here to stay.  Natural places are diminishing, and will continue to do so unless today’s youth value them enough to protect them.  It may seem ironic to use a screen to fight against screens, but Play Again is definitely an effective way to combat the apathy of our fast-paced, plugged-in society.

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