A few weeks ago I had the privilege of attending a fascinating panel discussion concerning playgrounds.
The "Play Panelists" and Host Alex Smith
To be fair, my childhood did not consist of visiting fun, interesting playgrounds. My village didn't have one. Instead, I grew up playing outside, in the woods near our house, on the ocean shore and in the woods near our cottage. Comparatively, playgrounds (as they existed in the school yards at that time) were boring. Even at my elementary school we spent more time in the wooded area (which is now off limits for kiddos) than on the cookie cutter playground equipment.
Which just goes to show that playgrounds could be so much more interesting for child development and learning. If we can just get beyond our own selves.
The discussion was organized by the creator of the phenomenal blog "Playgroundology": Alex Smith. Alex is the father of four lovely children, three of which are often featured playing in playgrounds around HRM on his blog (I especially love his Father's Day post: "Dads4Play" you should check it out!).
He's also the editor and creator of "Halifax Plays" which chronicles his discovery of playgrounds around HRM (an extremely useful site for any HRM or even Nova Scotian playgroundologist :) ).
The panel discussion included a panel of four "experts" (the play people panel) in the fields relating to playgrounds:
Rachel Hawkes Cameron: A recent graduate of NSCAD's Master's of Design Program. Rachel presented her thesis; "From the Playground Up" which was an exploration of the benefits of provocative playgrounds. (You can actually view her thesis in electronic form here!).
(Playground in Europe- parents AND children are all actively involved in the play- Rachel assured us the parents were not in fact yelling cautionary comments for the children to be safe, but encouraging them in their climbing.
Photo from "Playgrounds" at RachelHawkesCameron.com)
What I found absolutely amazing were her photos and her reviews from her travels to playgrounds in different parts of the world. The theme of perceived threat to safety (and we all agreed, a certain level of manufacturing fear from the media), was present throughout all four panelist's discussions and I would say evidence of one of the largest barrier's our North American society has in promoting creative and developmentally stimulating play.
Sarah MacKeigan: Sarah is actually someone I know from another "life"; as she's a local yoga instructor (one of my favs!). So it was neat seeing her in another context. Sarah is the project lead for Stepping Up Halifax- which helps communities and organizations link together to encourage physical activity in HRM.
What Sarah reminded us, was the connection of play and playgrounds to the physical health of our children (and ourselves). The current stats on our children's failure to achieve recommended amounts of physical activity are frightening and for myself it was a reminder that in this digital world we, as adults, need to make the decision that our children *will* play outside and that we actually need to be physically active role models ourselves.
Be the change you wish to see...
Bridget Quigley: Bridget actually began our discussion with her story on how she, along with a group of other motivated parents, managed to fundraise and build a more innovative and creative playground for her local school.
Bridget's take on playground spaces was something I had never considered: the importance of making playgrounds and play spaces a permanent *community* focused fixture as opposed to a place for children only. Along with the "permanence" theme, I loved how her group used natural elements such as logs and pieces of cement and stone from a local demolished church.
Bridget's message was clear: if we want change and creative play spaces for our children, we may have to take that step in advocacy ourselves.
Sue Sirrs: Sue is the principal landscape architect for "Outside Planning and Design" which was the project lead for the fabulous Submarine Playground on the Halifax waterfront. Sue brought with her the safety guidelines from the provincial government on public playground equipment and play spaces... which is several hundred pages thick and filled with overly cautious (and litigation-cautious, let's be honest) regulations and stipulations.
(Alex and his three youngest posing at the submarine playground at the Halifax waterfront.
Photo credit: http://playgroundchronicles.wordpress.com/2013/06/09/the-play-people-panel-alderney-gate-library-june-12-from-7-830-pm/)
Although disheartening to see our society move towards such a "bubblewrapped kid" culture, the positive piece is two fold:
a) a little bit of parent and social education around child learning (and de-fear mongering) can go a long way
b) government leadership IS possible in removing barriers and redtape to childhood education. A fabulous example of this is New Zealand's innovative and internationally lauded early childhood education legislation: Te Whariki.
So on this Canada Day Weekend, my fellow Canadian peeps; Go get out there and play!