Article 31 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child recognizes “the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.” The highest international body upholds play as vital for children. Yet in Santa Barbara, this right is obstructed by Santa Barbara Unified School District closing their campuses after school and on weekends, preventing kids from being able to meet and play in their neighborhoods.

Closed campuses are most apparent in our Eastside and Westside communities where access to safe and sufficient parks and open spaces is limited. Both Harding Elementary and La Cumbre Junior High remain surrounded by fences, despite the fact that 13 percent of the district’s students are homeless or living in distressed housing situations. Those children who don’t have homes to return to should have the ability to meet with other children after school hours to run and play. This is a simple step Santa Barbara Unified can take to ensure the health and physical and mental wellness of our community’s children.

Play is the way children learn to engage and interact with the world around them. They learn how to collaborate and get along with their peers, they experiment and try new activities. They discover new activities and sports and identify their interests. Moreover, play promotes physical activity. Kids burn twice as many calories when outdoors vs. indoors. Healthy bodies create healthy minds which positively influences youth mental health.

Lompoc Unified School District used to have closed campuses. We partnered with them to install tracks (like at La Cumbre Junior High) and gopher-proofed fields. The district opened their campuses for children to play, families to exercise, and sports teams to practice immediately after school and on weekends. The district had no difficulties with trash, graffiti, or other issues. Their campuses remain open and kids are seen playing while others walk and run laps.

Author and expert Peter Gray champions that accessibility to local area playgrounds is one of the best ways societies can promote healthy child development. “Children are healthiest and learn most effectively when they are left to playfully explore their natural curiosities in a nurturing environment equipped with the tools of their culture. Play is not recess from education; it IS education. Children learn far more in play, and with far more joy, than they could possibly learn in a classroom.”

SBUSD needs to follow this model and open its campuses.


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