Playworld' POV on creating relevant playgrounds in a tech-driven world featured in Playground Magazine

Creating Relevant Playgrounds in a Tech-Driven World

by Ian Proud

Playground Magazine, spring 2014

How vital are playgrounds in today’s society? For many people, unstruc- tured outdoor play is viewed as a luxury, not a necessity. As a result, children don’t devote as much time in unstructured outdoor play as they did decades ago.
Multiple societal forces – both positive and negative – are affecting people’s perception of the importance of play in their lives. One factor disrupting the amount of outdoor play time is the over-scheduling of family life. Free time, for both children and adults, is rare. Schoolwork, extracurricular activities, and chores fill daily calendars, edging out opportunities to roam around freely outdoors. Many parents have concerns about their chil- dren’s safety outside the home – whether the threat is as minimal as a skinned knee or as extreme as “stranger danger.”

Instead of running out the door to play after homework and other responsibilities are finished, today’s children often turn to television, video games, and other electronic gadgets to decompress from their busy lives. Technology vies for children’s time, and all the while, parents are dealing with the demands of balancing work and home life.

According to Howard Chudacoff, author of Children at Play: An American History (2007), “Beginning around 1960 or a little before, adults began chipping away at outdoor unstructured play by increasing the time that children had to spend at schoolwork and, even more significantly, by reducing children’s freedom to play on their own, even when they were out of school and not doing homework. Adult-directed sports for children began to replace games; adult-directed classes out of school began to replace hobbies; and parents’ fears led them, ever more, to forbid children from going out to play with other kids, away from home, unsupervised.”

Today, children get 50 percent less unstructured outdoor play time than kids of the 1970s, according to the not-for-profit advocacy group The Alliance for Childhood. Childhood obe- sity is just one negative outcome of this new reality. Unstructured outdoor play is a necessity for raising happy, healthy children. Without play, kids’ cognitive development, creativity, and socialization skills suffer. Play takes away stress, reduces obesity, and promotes spiritual development. It also unites us and strengthens our sense of community.

Play is not a luxury — through play, children develop their entire being: physically, creatively, cognitively, socially, and emotionally. In Free to Learn, developmental psychologist Dr. Peter Gray states that our children, if free to pursue their own interests through play, will not only learn all they need to know, but will do so with unbounded energy and passion.

Unstructured outdoor play helps children develop into thoughtful, capable adults by presenting them with risks they must learn to handle appropriately. According to clinical psychologists Drs. Susan Davis and Nancy Eppler-Wolff (Children Who Soar: A Parent’s Guide to Helping Children Take Good Risks (2009)):

“Risk is inevitable, and without learning the skills of good risk-taking, our children will be more apt to take impulsive and poor risks. Through the development of thoughtful risk-taking, children will be better equipped to leap at life’s opportunities, and to rebound from life’s disappointments. Learning to take smart risks early on prepares them to recognize and think through issues of safety and danger. They will have had experience identifying the challenge and the risk, and have worked with parents and teachers on how to proceed to the next step, using their intellect and emotional skills. They are also better able to struggle more tenaciously through failures because they have experienced small setbacks.”


To read the full article, pick up the spring 2014 issue of Playground Magazine.