by Kimba M.
Canadian children are growing less and less active, which is why movements such as ParticipACTION are at work advertising and trying to promote more active children. Perhaps by providing spaces that facilitate more than just physical development of youth our nations young people can redeem themselves and have a bright and active future.
I recently read an internet article called ‘Are we babying our kids? Can riskier playgrounds make healthier adults?’ showcasing the idea of an Anarchy Playground.1 The premise of the article was encouraging readers to consider the pros and cons of a play area stocked with assorted junk yard objects like tires, propped up wooden boards, blankets hung from trees, shovels, buckets, and ample mud for all the children to make mud cup cakes. The playground would be less clean, tidy and safe but that children would grow tougher, mold their imaginations and develop their own play.
What I really appreciated about this play area design was the natural setting and limited instruction and interference of adults. An aspect of the play area that wasn’t emphasized was that it was surrounded by vegetation and contained abundant plant life through the active landscape. As a child I lived in a house that backed onto a forest. Right out back, through the fence gate was a bike path (fire truck lane), then a strip of grass bordered by a forest. Although I never wanted for a play space of toys within my yard I loved exploring the woods and running around in the grassy area outside of the fence. Not only did the access to the external environment encourage activity, it fed my curiosity and caused me to search, learn and even imagine what might live in the woods beyond. I loved finding new and familiar insects and plant species and bringing them home to show mom or dad. If I didn’t recognize something I would look for a picture of it in the many nature books my parents stocked the living room with. This gave me a means of socialization for I always had something new to show or share with my neighborhood friends and younger siblings.
Susan Herrington and Ken Studtmann (1998) recognized the value of a ‘nature-like’ play area and conducted a study looking at the influence of a play area stoked with trees, shrubs, rocks, and natural land masses had on more then just the physical development of children between 2-6 years of age.2 Through their 2-year study, they observed child behaviors that supported their theory that an environment closer to nature and less man made would lead to social, emotional, and cognitive child development as well as physical development.
According to a manual outlining the recipe for positive youth development published by the Province of Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services, the four important domains of adolescent development are cognitive, emotional, physical, and social.3 The design of more nature like parks and play areas has the potential to provide Canadian children with more then a boost to become active but to develop other essential personal characteristics as well, whether it be well planned and supervised or a little more anarchistic. I feel as though a national aim to provide nature-like play areas for children would be a wise investment for the health and success of today and tomorrows children.
What is your opinion of the relevance of a move towards, perhaps, less ‘safe’ playgrounds that provide children with a chance to explore nature on a regular basis?
- Eisenstadt, M. (2014). Are we babying our kids? can riskier playgrounds make healthier adults? http://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2014/09/are_we_babying_our_kids_can_riskier_playgrounds_make_healthier_adults.html
- Herrington, S. & Studtmann, K. (1998). Landscape interventions: New directions for the design of children’s outdoor play environments. Landscape Urban Planning, 42(2–4), 191-205. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0169-2046(98)00087-5.
- Province of Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services. Stepping stones: A resource on youth development. http://www.children.gov.on.ca/htdocs/English/topics/youthopportunities/steppingstones/youth_policy.aspx. Updated 2013. Accessed 09/10, 2014.