No fun place for kids as adults take space

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Phu thuy lam chieu (The witch with lots of magic), a successful play for children organized by Idecaf in 2009.

A trip to the supermarket a normal, regular household activity in major cities, is all that many children from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City can think of when asking for a reward for a good performance at school.

That they feel they have little choice in the matter bespeaks of a major failure to provide safe and meaningful entertainment spaces for children, experts say.

In HCMC, parents have to think hard about where to take their children during the weekend. Many options are considered expensive, like the Rong Vang (Golden Dragon), the city's only water puppet theater. Tickets cost VND65,000 (US$3.42) per adult and VND25,000 ($1.32) per child. The theater on Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street is often full, but only around 5 percent of the audience are Vietnamese.

Professional water puppet artists in HCMC don't have their own stage and make do with a temporary one at the War Remnants Museum on Vo Van Tan Street.

Some artists also perform at the Vietnam History Museum on Nguyen Binh Khiem Street. Children who want to see the puppet show here will be charged twice as they have to pay for entrance tickets to the museum as well.

Drama troupes perform for children only on occasions like Children's Day, while there are hundreds of plays and comedies performed for adults throughout the year.

More than two years ago, a program called Children's Voice was launched at Tuoi Tre (Youth) Theater in Hanoi to perform children's plays for free. It has since disappeared.

Children's toys at public parks, meanwhile, are so poorly maintained that they do not attract any enthusiasm among the kids or the adults.

Le Thi Thuy, a mother from District 7, HCMC, said the only children's garden near her home has been "invaded" by adults to open parking lots, sell food and canoodle. Worse still, many areas of the park are used by adults to answer nature's call, she complained.

Slides and trapezes in the garden have become rusty and can harm children, Thuy added.

So parks have gone from being favorite spots for children to places that they have to stay away from.

Nguyen Phan Hong Hanh, a nine-year-old in HCMC, said she used to enjoy watching puppet performances on the weekend but "people have cleared the place."

Hanh said there was no park around her home so she plays on the sidewalk after class. But "Mom says it's dangerous," the little girl said.

Her school has a playground but "it's too small for everyone," she added.

There's always a "˜but'

HCMC has a large number of playgrounds for children, not to mention several children's houses in every single district. Schools have their own playgrounds and shopping centers also have children's sections.

But there are few places where children can really have fun.

Hoang Le, a HCMC parent, said the Saigon Zoo and Botanical Gardens or Dam Sen Park now have nothing new to interest children while a circus on Dong Khoi Street that she used to take her child to has been destroyed during a city construction project.

"Now I can only take my child to bookstores or supermarkets to paint small statues in the children's section. But even I find it boring," said the mother.

Le Van Duc, a five-year-old HCMC resident, said he does not like going to the supermarket because there is "no fun there."

The children's houses in schools or around the city also give them more stress than fun as they organize painting, swimming, martial art courses accompanied with tests and other forms of competitions.

Parents' attitudes also limit children's playing spaces.

Many parents think that children shouldn't play as much and should spend more time studying. Very few parents in Vietnam are concerned about their children's schools having a proper playground. They are only worried about the schools having famous teachers and a high rate of academically excellent students.

Jerome and Dorothy Singer, psychology professors from Yale University, have said children should play outdoors for at least an hour each day and more on the weekend. Parents should play with children but also let them play on their own, observing them without intervention, the professors said in a report.

They said children should be allowed to get in contact as much as they can with nature, like trees, water, soil and sand, and that they shouldn't be worried about their children getting dirty.

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