Unstructured outdoor play is not happening today the way it did decades ago. As a father of four and CEO of a commercial playground equipment manufacturer, I believe we need to reinvent outdoor play in order to save it. That is why Playworld Systems exhibited at the annual international Consumer Electronics Show (CES) last week. Bringing technology onto the playground is just one of the many ways that Playworld Systems has re-imagined play spaces for the 21st century. We brought NEOS 360 to CES to demonstrate how we are incorporating technology into the playground like never before. It’s one example of how we are rethinking play to help save outdoor play for future generations.
Did you know that today’s kids get 50% less unstructured outdoor playtime than kids of the ‘70s? To blame are over-scheduling of our kids’ lives, unprecedented competiveness, security concerns and the advent of video games and electronic devices. Childhood obesity isn’t the only negative outcome of this new reality. Without play, kids’ cognitive development (including creativity) and socialization suffer.
Think back to your own childhood. Your parents would tell you to go outside and play. They didn’t have to plead with you to run around the block to burn some energy. Chances are you would beg to hit the streets for one last game of kick the can or four-square before bed. Unstructured outdoor play was a natural part of childhood. Today the National Football League spends a great deal of money to remind kids they need active play for at least 60 minutes every day.
As one of the leading manufacturers of playground equipment, our vision is to reinvent unstructured outdoor play in order to save play. And the time is now. Here’s how we’re doing it:
Step One: Play is an experience, not a piece of equipment
The first thing we need to do is stop thinking about the equipment and start thinking about the experiences our children have when they’re playing. We have to consider what happens when kids are on the playground – embarking on imaginary pirate adventures, playing house or peek-a-boo – and build equipment that embraces and encourages their creativity. The playground is the intersection of reality and fantasy.
Step Two: Play has to be meaningful
Believe it or not, play is a necessity, not a luxury. Kids have limited time for unstructured play. We need to place value on that time and make the most of it. Play takes away stress, reduces obesity and promotes spiritual development. It also unites and strengthens our sense of community.
Step Three: Play has to be relevant
We must be more thoughtful about the equipment we design and manufacture. The play experience has to be relevant to delight kids and keep them engaged. We also have to consider parents’ concerns, ranging from stranger danger to the need to have a child who thrives academically, athletically and artistically at a very young age. We need to innovate in order to create play experiences kids want. That might mean modernizing some of the classic playground equipment to fit the way kids play today. It may also mean connecting digital and physical worlds to reinvent outdoor play.
When the throngs of CES attendees poured through the doors last week they were surprised to see a playground equipment manufacturer among the exhibitors for the first time ever. But if we’re going to save play, CES is just the beginning of re-imaging outdoor play.