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Lawson Foundation Grant Hopes To Make Playgrounds Riskier, Less Safe

Yes, you read that right.
Kid walking on trunk
Kid walking on trunk

If one Canadian foundation gets its way, outdoor playgrounds will be a riskier and more unstructured place for kids.

On Thursday, the Lawson Foundation announced its Outdoor Play Strategy which includes $2.7 million in grants, to be spent on developing outdoor play programs across Canada.

"Children's play is in decline,” Marcel Lauzière, CEO and president of the The Lawson Foundation, said in a press release. “Kids actually need unstructured outdoor play — play that includes taking risks — because we know that this is important for their healthy development."

“They don’t need to be told what’s safe and what’s not safe. They need to figure that out for themselves."

Three Alberta organizations — Vivo for Healthier Generations, The City of Calgary and Edmonton's Glenora Child Care Society — will be receiving a total of $422,000 in related grants.

The announcement comes after reports funded by the non-profit found that children need more opportunities to play outside.

In one of the studies, spearheaded by researchers at The University of British Columbia, found that risky play like climbing, jumping, rough and tumble activities and exploring alone improved children's physical and social health.

It also suggested safety standards and supervision on modern playgrounds actually prevent children from engaging in the kind of play that is beneficial.

"Children's play is in decline."

Vivo, a Calgary non-profit that works to improve healthy living in communities, will use its grant to fund an initiative called "Play Ambassadors." The program will staff playgrounds with professionals to help facilitate play, without dictating or discouraging kids from taking risks on their own.

Play ambassadors are used at "The Land," an "adventure playground" or "risky playground" in the U.K. made famous in a 2014 article in The Atlantic titled "The Overprotected Kid."

Kids playing at "The Land" are free to do anything they please — from building rope swings to starting tire fires. The play ambassadors are present just to make sure things don't get too out of hand.

In the past three years, the workers have almost never needed to stop an activity — the worst injury a kid has received is a scraped knee, according to The Atlantic.

While playgrounds similar to "The Land" exist around Europe and the U.K., they are much less common in North America, where perceptions tend toward thinking risky play is too dangerous, according to The Globe and Mail.

The foundation is hoping to change that perception by reframing the importance of risk in parents' minds.

Adrian Merrick, an early childhood educator, says its important parents think of risk as a potential learning experience, adding that too many parents "micromanage" their kids' activities.

“They don’t need to be told what’s safe and what’s not safe. They need to figure that out for themselves," Merrick told Global News.

The City of Calgary will use the grant to develop a "Play Charter," to support unstructured and risky play into existing parks, playgrounds and programs.

Another important factor is giving kids access to year-round opportunities to explore the outdoors.

For the Glenora Child Care Society, the grant will go towards opening up more opportunities for kids to play outdoors in the winter. Kids will be given the chance to feed birds, make snow sculptures and take regular outdoor winter field trips.

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