The Overprotected Kid by Hanna Rosin in The Atlantic last week is very powerful. It illuminates just how bland playgrounds have become in the last 30 years, and how that came to be. After 10 years of teaching and almost 4 of being a parent to a very adventurous little boy, I have come to understand that play is the most important learning experience for young children. Risky play in particular makes for more aware, confident, and safe children.
There are a few brave souls out there like Claire Griffiths, with the perseverance and know-how to get free-form and risky playgrounds back on the map.
Griffiths started selling local families on the proposed playground in 2006. She talked about the health and developmental benefits of freer outdoor play, and explained that the playground would look messy but be fenced in. But mostly she made an appeal rooted in nostalgia. She explained some of the things kids might be able to do and then asked the parents to remember their own childhoods. “Ahh, did you never used to do that?” she would ask. This is how she would win them over. Read full article…
I hope to be one of those courageous people one day. I am just a lowly park commissioner in my small town. We have a very predictable set of playground equipment from park to park. My fantasy is to build something like The Land right here in West Sacramento, California, The United States. Will it be possible in our national atmosphere of safety-first and lawsuits second? Perhaps.
There’s some precedent for this in California. Or, rather, a holdover from an earlier era: The Adventure Playground in Berkeley, which was built in the 1970’s. It has somehow survived the onslaught of lawsuits and guidelines that stole the character of many other playgrounds. It’s less messy and child-driven than The Land, but it allows children to hammer and saw, and to build the playground’s landscape somewhat. Kids can roll tires down a hill, or even roll down it inside a plastic barrel. It has a zip line for kids over the age of six.
However, even Adventure Playground lacks the degree of freedom with materials and environment that is allowed in The Land. Climbing, seesawing, and sliding apparatuses are still created and maintained by grown-ups instead of children. It definitely lacks a place for children to light fires. If someone were to propose to start an Adventure Playground or The Land in California today, I have my doubts it could happen. But I might try.