Rethinking Playgrounds as Places for Active Imagination and Risk
I ran across a pretty provocative post today that advocates tearing down the millions of safe plastic forts and rubber-coated equipment of our playgrounds. That while we may have originally built them as active places of exploration and imagination, the padded and sanded safety measures have take all interest and exploration out of play time. In fact, the post invites us to look at a different, softer option, such as sand or water playgrounds. Or giant foam blocks designed for construction and imaginary play.
There is something to be said here. I know that at my previous school, our kids, with a limited amount of playground equipment (esp as compared to their previous schools) were bored the first week at break/recess, wanting us to start games for them (we refused, purposefully), or they crowded up on the two pieces of equipment we had and were still bored.
But after a week or less of this, most kids were creating their own games, creating their own rules and we were only there to ensure that everyone was getting along (picture more conflict resolution here and NO “playground police” actions). And we were there in case someone got hurt, which happened occasionally.
But only twice did anyone get seriously. One kid cut his leg pretty badly on broken glass left hidden in the grass. We were in a neighborhood where our playground housed nefarious behaviors after 6pm. Pure accident. And we all learned to look around and pick up glass when we saw it.
The second serious accident was when a kid fell off the “safe” equipment, doing exactly what we had said not to do. See, there were rules we had to have for the “safe” equipment because it was boring and the kids used it in ways it wasn’t intended to be used, indulging in more exciting risk. And this kid broke a rule and broke his arm.
Oh, and we pulled NUMEROUS splinters each year caused by the “safe” wood chips spread below.
We loved the active, cooperative, imaginary play that our kids engaged in outside the 2 pieces of “safe” equipment. It was always amazing to watch.
And did I mention that these were 5th – 8th graders, all playing together? Yes, this age needs physical breaks and they should be in a multi-age, family setting. As they played together, the responsibility levels shifted with the multiage grouping, as the olders took on a mentorship or sibling-style caring for “the young ‘uns” around them.
Yes, playgrounds can, quite successfully, look and feel and teach very, very different.