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Build & design with nature and children in mind

Photo: Brenda Kessler

Adventure playgrounds

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Memorial Park in South Nyack, NY
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Our favorite park in town recently underwent renovations. The previous play structure was bland compared to some of the amazing adventure playgrounds I have visited across the country and abroad. This is sure to be a change for the better, I thought. Opening day came with a big surprise. The new play structure was similar to the previous one; static and ordinary in many ways. Additionally, the surface had been covered with artificial turf. No loose parts and little room to foster creativity. The scenario repeats itself all over the United States. 

Playgrounds across the United States are no longer grounds for children to be creative or assess risks. They are designed to be durable, accident-free, and easy to maintain. Reducing liability has become a priority for stakeholders. The results? Bored children who rather stay indoors entertained by technology. We parents, in a way, have contributed to this issue by overprotecting our children and hovering over them in fear of them getting hurt. But the only one getting hurt is their childhood experience. 

 

Simon Nicholson reflected on this in his famous article How Not to Cheat Children: Theory of Loose Parts.  Fallen leaves, logs, sticks, water, rocks, and all other loose elements encourage children to use their imagination.  Perhaps designers, architects, landscapers, and urban planners should take into account Nicholson's theory when designing our parks.  Some cities are doing just that!

 

Adventurous playgrounds or nature playscapes are slowly appearing. Most images on the left are some adventure playgrounds we visited in Berlin during the summer of 2019. 

Play:groundNYC, a non-profit organization whose slogan is “a playground for children built by children” is now open in New York City.  Similarly,  Chicago based Koop Playground is a  place where children are free to use materials such as wood, rope, paint, pipes, tires, mud to build their own kind of playground. References

‘In any environment, both the degree of inventiveness and creativity and the possibility of discovery, are directly proportional to the number and kind of variables in it.”

 

- Simon Nicholson (1971)

What can parents do?

-Make your voice heard: attend community meetings and become an active citizen.

 

-Vote for candidates that will advocate for greener and environmentally friendly initiatives in your community. 

 

-Support school programs that prioritize time outdoors. Join your school board, education foundation or PTA. Let directors know your concerns for quality outdoor time.  

-Volunteer/donate to organizations like community gardens and urban farms that help bring natural settings and healthy produce to schools.