Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Time for a Play Day: Safety Concerns on the Playground Shouldn't Impose on Creative Design and Fun for Kids

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Time for a Play Day: Safety Concerns on the Playground Shouldn't Impose on Creative Design and Fun for Kids

Article excerpt

Tell a child to go play, and he or she instantly knows what that means, but at a recent education session with adults who were mostly recreation professionals, people had trouble defining the word "play."

A quick search on the Internet returns items such as (as a verb) "engage in enjoyable activity," "take part in a game," "pretend to be," (as a noun) "enjoyable activities," "turn in a game" and "action during a game." A variety of other definitions ranging from competitive sports to gambling rounded out the listing, but these seemed to explain children's use of play. Perhaps the definition lies in the answer to the question: why do children need to play?

Yes, it's true--children need to play. Consider that the activity of play is critical to the health, wellness and development of children by taking risk, learning about themselves and challenging their abilities in a wide variety of play environments. Play environments and playgrounds themselves are not to be considered a luxury provided to babysit children while caregivers participate in other leisure activities. Rather, they are a critical component of the welfare of children in their key growth years.

Where do play environments fit into today's children's needs? Tommy Thompson, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services notes, "Too many of our children are sitting around, and their inactivity is leading to serious health problems such as overweight, obesity and diabetes. Our kids need to be kids and be active. We need to get our children away from the PlayStation and onto the playground. By doing so, our children will live healthier and grow into strong adults."

A new value in playgrounds and play environments becomes clear in the healthy development of children who all too often are in settings where recess and physical education classes may have been relegated as "filler" as opposed to primary need. Play was identified nearly 300 years ago as an advantageous part of children's learning and skills development yet somehow we've lost contact with that knowledge too often in the name of safety and risk management.

Childhood development specialists such as Helle Burlingame recognize this need and represent strong advocates for the provision of play environments for kids. He says, "Playgrounds are critical to the healthy development of children. There is more and more evidence that shows the benefits of starting healthy habits earlier in a child's life."

Speaking more specifically to the value of play, Burlingame goes further, stating, "Playgrounds provide a crucial outlet for developing not only physical abilities, but if designed correctly, emotional, intellectual and social skills as well. Building unique playgrounds that inspire a child's imagination is the best method of engaging a child's curiosity and encouraging interaction with the equipment. Interaction with the equipment nurtures physical activity as well as socialization. We need more playgrounds that are designed to foster the varied and growing needs of children."

Ah yes, another wrinkle in the provision of play sites. They not only need to be there, but they need to be challenging, inviting and fun. Over the course of the last 20 years where safety has driven many decisions relating to playgrounds, the sites themselves have not only diminished in numbers, i.e. the loss of community, neighborhood play sites, but also become less creative and less challenging. …

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