I'm pleased to introduce guest blogger Kate Becker, KaBOOM! VP of Program Management, who is in the UK with me right now touring innovative playspaces. The eye-opening experience has made Kate wonder, are safe playgrounds hurting our children?
Walk across a rickety bridge. Gather wood and toss it into the fire. Zip 50 feet across rolling terrain on the zip line. Sleep overnight in a Tepee camp. This is what play should be!
There is a huge gap between the standard-focused playgrounds of the United States and the take-a-bit-of-a-risk-look-see-touch-do-adventure playgrounds of Tower Hamlets, a borough in London.
These playgrounds ignite the imagination, present adventures, and challenge children to take on new tasks. In the words of our host, Phil Doyle, co-author of Design for Play: A guide to creating successful play spaces, "A playground isn't doing its job if it can be mastered by most any child in the first go-round. A playground should present challenges that a child needs to work up to."
At one housing estate (as "public housing" is referred to in the UK), we talked to a little girl who was seven or eight years old. She was thoroughly enjoying a hammock swing with her friends, who were competing with one another to see who could jump the furthest from the swing.
When we asked her about her new playground, she told us it was loads of fun. The rolling log was very difficult, she said, and she could not yet walk on it without falling. But she is not giving up. She is learning that not everything comes easy and she has to work for her achievements. There will be a few bumps and bruises along the way. And her accomplishment will be that much more rewarding when she finally walks the entire log.
When you think about it, don't children and adults alike have more to learn from our failures, our mistakes and our challenges than we have to learn from mastering something on the first try? Are we working too hard to protect our kids from failure and risk?
It's time to get kids out of their comfort zones--and the comfort zones of their parents. If we're designing playspaces that can be conquered by a seven-year-old in one fell swoop, it seems we're missing the point.