1. Screens- There are many opinions whether screens should or shouldn’t be used: at what age; for what duration depending on age; should children get an endless amount of time because we should trust them to know what’s best for their own development?; only after playing outside because we want to make sure they are getting ample outside time too?; and so on and so forth. We are in a period where technology is important. I wouldn’t go as far as saying important to survive but important to thrive. We cannot neglect the fact that the internet has contributed a lot to society and access to knowledge. However, I think the real question is what has screen time replaced in a child’s day? What were they doing before the proliferation of screens? Children were interacting and playing outdoors with other children, a process instrumental to social interaction with multi-age groups, sense of belonging to a community and in recognizing their own abilities and strengths. Screens replaced outdoor play. Adventure playgrounds are safe places where kids of all ages can play outside together and manipulate ‘loose parts’ based on their own interests and motivation.2. Trust- My second point is how we once saw children and how we see them today. Once children could go outside on their own. We gave them the tools they needed to play outside alone. They knew what the expectations were- stay out of trouble, come back if you get hurt, come back for dinner, have fun. We believed that they were capable, responsible and trustworthy. Today, it’s as though we need to protect them and therefore we limit their own investigations in the outdoors and unfortunately elsewhere as well. We control every second of their day with very little choice. Additionally, it is not only that we feel children are incapable, it’s that we feel others are untrustworthy and we live in a world filled with fear. Fear from accidents, stranger danger or kidnappings. However, according to research, these rare occurrences are at an all-time low. There are constantly things in this world that we can fear but if we choose to live our lives in fear we might miss out on experiencing life!
painted face, muddy pants, water play- what more can you ask for?!
3. Structured/facilitated activities- We then decided let’s put children in structured activities where they can still play but in a super duper safe environment with an adult supervising. More than supervising- facilitating the play. We call these extracurricular activities. Besides them being safe they are in tune with the increasing push towards excellence. Parents (and kids) are put against societal pressures not only for their children to succeed academically but to make sure they are well-rounded. They learn an instrument, play a sport, act in a theatre production, dance… and they are constantly being evaluated and then they switch to more intense practices if deemed “excellent”. But at what cost? What does it take to call a child successful? Because if they don’t they won’t get into college? Seriously? Give em’ a break. I’m not saying my kids don’t partake in extracurricular activities- but not every day- one each and then we make sure to “schedule in” self-directed play, as well. Compliment extracurricular activities with outdoor explorations and creativity with random materials. Make sure this time is one where they are in control, where they are leading the play, where they are being listened to. Otherwise, think about the amount of time in one day that they must listen to an adult and not to their own interests and motivations. I could not listen for that long- why should they be forced?
4. Fixed Playground Equipment- We all love taking our kids to parks. Lately, I feel that the equipment is fantastic and enticing for my kids but it really only answers one type of play. Physical play. They run, climb, slide, swing, jump but there is not much of anything else. Bob Hughes talks about many types of play: symbolic play, rough and tumble play, socio-dramatic play, social play, deep play and so many more. In addition, once kids master the playground they start using it in ways that weren’t intended by the manufacturers. Climbing above the slide, jumping from the highest feature etc. That’s when injuries occur. I have an answer for all these dilemmas and short comings of what exists today. It’s not new, I didn’t make it up, it exists all over Europe and even in a few places in the USA, such as the one I founded in Illinois called KOOP Adventure Play. Adventure Playgrounds are unique environments where children have the materials and freedom to create their own playground. It is a space that allows for unlimited and different types of play to be discovered by children. The space is filled with raw materials or "loose parts" that allow the children to continuously change and adapt their playground based on their creativity, abilities and motivation. An adventure playground is in a constant process of change, directed, informed and executed by the children and their playing. Their play is supported by staff called play workers. It is a place of psychological safety and calculated risk. There are no prefabricated, adult manufactured play structures, only creations and structures which children have imagined. It is a space and time where all one’s senses are engaged.
To summarize: · An adventure playground is a place with no screens, it is usually outdoors and might have an indoor space should weather be an issue, but we are under the impression that there is no such thing as bad weather only bad gear (check out Linda McGurk’s book or her amazing blog: Rain Or Shine Mama) · The children are in charge of their time and the space provided. Their play is based on their interest, creativity, motivation and self-direction.· The space is safe. There are trained play workers on site to help support the kids in their play. · There are ‘loose parts’. These are materials that have a loosely defined purpose and can be used for anything the child decides. Nicholson stated: “In an environment both the degree of inventiveness and creativity and the possibility of discovery are directly proportional to the number of kinds of variables in it.” Loose Parts often lead to many of the play types Bob Hughes discussed. Come to KOOP Adventure play programs if you are nearby and if not find one or start your own and make sure your kids have free play opportunity! Check out Pop Up Adventure Play to help start your own.