I’ve been thinking about play, in particular play parks. Ever since I visited one recently with my God son and also since I watched Project Wild Thing - a feature length film highlighting the importance of getting children outside. This film emphasises the rich experiences waiting to be had in nature; running through long grass, climbing trees, oh and licking frogs. So this got me thinking, within this free natural playground, where does the manufactured playground fit in?
Playgrounds are popular, and in my experience a lot of my childhood was spent in them. This is where I developed the courage to stand on a rectangular piece of rubber while swinging high in the air or climb to the top of a structure 3 times the height of me, but wait a minute these experiences can be achieved in the great outdoors, what a great playground!
Of course the advantage of playgrounds is that they are packaged and prepared for children and contain recognised pieces of equipment placed there for the soul purpose of play. They (mostly) have soft surfaces that cushion a child’s fall and of course they are widely available, especially in built up and residential areas.
I am all for playgrounds, they are invaluable to communities and often one of the few times parents meet other parents and children meet other children. Alongside this, I advocate that natural environments provide all of the same experiences and more while encouraging children to develop a love for the outdoors and nature amongst many other things.
Although many newer playgrounds encourage use of the imagination, like pretending to be a pirate for example I believe that gazing at tall trees, stepping on cracking branches underfoot and brushing long tickly grass sparks children’s imagination even more (see "We’re Going on a Bear Hunt" by Michael Rosen).
In areas that have less natural features for example in the centre of cities and in vast residential areas there are still many ‘naturally occuring’ playgrounds. Remember bouncing a ball off a wall as a kid? How about jumping off of a wall or playing hopskotch on cracked paving slabs?
One of my favourite picture books is “How Tom Beat Captain Najork and his hired Sportsmen” by Russell Hoban and Quentin Blake. It tells the story of young Tom, a boy who is able to save himself from the threat of his uptight aunt, Miss Fidget Wonkham-Strong and her strange acquaintance, Captain Najork, purely through his ability to play, and see opportunities for play in the most unlikely places - how wonderful!
Wouldn’t it be great if our children were able to climb, jump, swing, splash, leap, balance, hop, squelch, fall and laugh whenever the opportunity presented itself, whether in a playground or not?
This post was also inspired by the arrival of Play Day 2014 on Wed 6th August 2014. Read more about this wonderful event here.