I heard an interesting radio program recently on ABC radio’s Radio National ~ Life Matters (I am such a mum sometimes). Play advocate Tim Gill and play specialist Anita Bundy were interviewed about the importance of adventurous and creative playgrounds.
Where I am from – the painfully neat village of Alstonville – parks are pretty predictable. The key feature is safety, of course. The grounds are soft and springy to cushion a fall, the slides are small and painfully boring, and the sea saws – well, our little neighbouring park has the smallest see saw I have ever seen. We have one interesting feature – the red climbing net that somewhat resembles the Eiffel Tower. It is the most popular, with young children and teenagers alike. I too have been known to do the odd climb and bounce.
I have long suspected parks could be a little bit more interesting. Elka often spends a lot of time at the fringe, watching the others (bored, perhaps?). Generally, it is the bigger kids who get the most pleasure, as they tend to invent games within games, and their characters give the playgrounds a new zest.
So, when I heard this program on Radio National, I listened in.
The gist was that interesting playgrounds that allow children to invent, explore and discover have a far more impressive effect on children’s resourcefulness, ability to work together and creativity. It makes sense. Of course, councils need to take caution, and rip up all swings because children can get injured and parents can sue, but there are safe playgrounds that can also be interesting.
I was impressed, for example, by the playgrounds we visited in California. The local Kentfield park borders a tennis court, a football oval and a beautiful, rugged marsh surrounded by mountains. The park has obviously been designed to integrate with the local surrounds. There are fibre-glass ducks to be climbed on, swings that don’t injure children, a tube slide, a sand pit with a tap…and best of all, a little tiny creek that runs through, where, with the push of a button, water trickles. There are spades provided and a little tiny pool of water for children to paddle.
I was so impressed because even though the local parents are neat and perfect, with toned arms and blonde, straight hair, they very generously (and smartly), let their children get wet feet and bottoms, and paddle around. Elka was, quite literally, in heaven. On our second trip to this particular park, she bee-lined to the stream, paddled around, dug holes, caught water in her hands, and yes, got a wet bottom. If it wasn’t for my short attention span, I could have let her play there all day. She would have been content.
My park education was furthered by a visit to the Bay Area Discovery Museum, SF. There was an enormous network of a life-size ship wreck, a small cave, a boat children could climb on and prepare food, a room full of wooden trees that make music, an area with blue foam shapes that children could assemble, and a room filled with scraps of paper that children and their parents could cut up, stick together and make things with. There was a sign that read:
“In Imagination Playground, children’s creativity flows when they:
- Explore: Ask questions, experiment, think “what if…?”
- Discover: come up with original ideas, “ah-ha” moments that are powerful intrinsic motivators
- Immerse: enter a state known as “flow”, which is linked with creativity
- Imagine: transport themselves to different worlds, developing empathy
- Connect: re-organise different experiences into a new understanding of the world.