Where will the children play?

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills is talking about playgrounds. I love playgrounds. Who doesn’t? They are a familiar part of life. Most neighbourhoods have at least one park or playground where children can go to play.

Playgrounds are great places for children to:

  • Meet other children
  • Learn to socialize, through sharing of equipment and taking turns
  • Develop physical skills such as coordination, balance, strength
  • Develop confidence and persistence, and a willingness to have a go and try out new things
  • Play imaginatively, on one’s own or collaboratively
  • Be outdoors in the fresh air and in nature
  • Be active

Charli suggested we think about empty playgrounds. I thought about the differences between modern playgrounds and the playgrounds of my childhood.

So many pieces of play equipment that were common and popular in “my day” are no more. They disappeared over the years, due to changing attitudes to safety and responsibility. So much of the playground equipment I played on as a child would not be allowed in a playground today.

Alanspeak, A slide for children to play on https://openclipart.org/detail/191139/childrens-slide

Alanspeak, A slide for children to play on https://openclipart.org/detail/191139/childrens-slide

It got me thinking about the history of playgrounds and playground equipment, and I was surprised to find that playgrounds are a fairly recent invention, little more than 150 years old. This article about playgrounds on Wikipedia states that playgrounds originated in Germany and were attached to schools. The first “purpose built public-access playground was built in a park in Manchester England in 1859.” The first in the USA appeared in San Francisco in 1887.

Other articles such as How We Came to Play: The History of Playgrounds, Evolution of American playgrounds, History of playgrounds and The history of playgrounds – past, present and future provide an interesting overview of the changing landscape of playgrounds over the years.

I was pleased to find that the philosophies of both Froebel and Dewey had been influential in the early days of playground design. I wrote about Froebel, the father of kindergarten, and provided links to information about his works in a previous post Let them Play! My thoughts about education and pedagogy were heavily influenced by the philosophy of progressive educator John Dewey. I previously shared some of his ideas, though not specifically related to play, in  John Dewey’s Dream.

Of course I couldn’t write about playgrounds without including something about school playgrounds. I hope that all schools have somewhere for children to run and play at break times. I recently read This is why Finland has the best schools and was impressed to find that

‘schoolchildren in Finland have a mandatory 15-minute outdoor free-play break every hour of every day. Fresh air, nature and regular physical activity breaks are considered engines of learning. According to one Finnish maxim, “There is no bad weather. Only inadequate clothing.””

The benefits to health, happiness and learning must be enormous.

Play at break time can be the highlight of a child’s day. Children may love the opportunity to run and play with their friends in a relatively unstructured, but safe environment. However, it is not so for all children. Some children dislike the freedom, the space, the lack of structure, the noise. Some don’t know how to make friends or how to play.

While it is great for children to have unstructured play time. It is also important to have equipment to support their play, be it imaginative, social, or physical. I have seen many disagreements occur when children have nothing to play with and no ideas for creating games of their own. It seems that many of the games we used to play, before the invention of video games and (cough cough) television, have been lost to subsequent generations. One day I will compile a list!

For now I will leave you with my response to the flash fiction challenge set by Charli at Carrot Ranch Communications. She challenged writers to

In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about an empty playground. Is it abandoned or are the children in school? What is it about the emptiness that might hint of deeper social issues. It can be a modern story, apocalyptic or historical. Go where the prompt leads.

I didn’t find it as easy as I thought I might.

From empty playground

She stopped abruptly as her scattered thoughts aligned to focus on the playground gate. As if restrained by an invisible chain, she was motionless. Beyond the gate children called to each other; but never her. She was not welcome, never included. Their taunts stabbed at her emptiness, twisting as they penetrated deep into the chasm within. She’d wait until they’d gone.

Suddenly a child was there, eying her quizzically; then a mother, appraising her, uncertain.

“Miss. Miss. Are you all right?”

“Y-yes,” she said, straightening herself. “J-just reminiscing.” How could a life once empty, be now so full?

Self-determination.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

27 thoughts on “Where will the children play?

  1. Bec Colvin

    Hi Nor,

    Sorry for taking so long to get to this great post. I am feeling a bit more time-able now! I love thinking about playgrounds being a modern invention. Something I have always taken for granted as a ‘thing that exists’. Very interesting! The FF was very powerful, as it is often is. Is that Marnie now as a teacher?

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Bec, It’s lovely to have you visit again. I know you’ve been extremely busy finalising your thesis and other things. I’m pleased you enjoyed the post. It was certainly a Marnie-type character. I hadn’t thought of her being a teacher though. Interesting. 🙂

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  2. Sarah Brentyn

    Great flash! (Mine rarely end the way I think they’re going to.)

    Absolutely love Finland’s rules for outdoor free-play breaks. Also, the mantra is awesome! “There is no bad weather. Only inadequate clothing.” 🙂

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  3. julespaige

    I agree that play is important. In the states there seems to be some time for play at school…but not enough. As Kindergarten classes focus on academics more and less on socialization. It is rare these days where children are allowed to go to playgrounds unattended by some adult, because scuffles are frowned upon.

    While there is a benefit to all participating there always seems to be a preference for who is the best at something. I sympathize with your piece because I always felt left out. You asked why (I as) Hope didn’t have a happier song? Because there wasn’t one to be had – then. But determination makes one return to the playgrounds of adults to in attempts to fit in.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for adding a little of the American perspective on play in schools. Jules. It’s the same here. “They” are too busy trying to cram kids’ heads full of content that they don’t allow them to be kids and play. Play is very beneficial for we humans. We all need to engage in it. It is important to mental and physical health, as well as an opportunity for creativity to blossom.
      I’m sorry that in some ways my flash reflected your experience. However I am pleased that for you, as well as my character, adulthood brought some mending to wounds caused by childhood trauma. You’re a survivor. That’s wonderful news. Thank you for sharing.

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  4. Daal

    Great subject. Am so happy today got email from my city that they’re added lots of workout equipment to park play area. That way parents can keep fit as their kids play. All parks should do same 🙂

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    1. Norah Post author

      It is a great idea. I remember seeing a big keep fit area at Santa Monica where lots of people were working out. It was very impressive. I haven’t seen anything like that here, although some parks are including fitness trails which provide equipment for strengthening different body parts at various locations around a park. I like to see them! 🙂

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  5. Pingback: And the Playground Was Empty « Carrot Ranch Communications

  6. Charli Mills

    Recess seems so ingrained in my perception of school in America from my own experiences and that of the old school where my father went (and I played there with cousins) and from reading Laura Ingalls Wilder. So, once again, you’ve challenged what I thought was an old institution. I was so appalled when we moved to Minnesota and they didn’t have playgrounds at middle school. And I miss the old contraptions I played on, too! Anytime I spied an old merry go round I stopped and pushed with my kids until we were all dizzy. I love your flash — Marnie? I agree with Anne, I thought of her, too. I love that last line.

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    1. Norah Post author

      I was surprised at how recent it is too. Interesting that you mentioned Laura Ingalls Wilder. I was trying to think back to some of the “Little House” I’d seen as a child on TV, but couldn’t recall any playground equipment. Couldn’t think of any in other shows either. I have good memories of playgrounds from my childhood, and of my children’s childhoods, and now my grandchildren. Some of them are boring and have little of interest, as Pauline describes, but others have wonderful structures to encourage imagination and adventure. I hope the tide will turn more that way.
      I did have Marnie in mind as I wrote, but wasn’t sure that it fitted exactly with previous stories, so didn’t say so. Thanks for picking up on it and for noticing the last line. 🙂

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        1. Norah Post author

          By rope swings, do you mean a piece of rope tied to a tree? or a board to sit on attached with rope? I still love to swing. Had a swing with my granddaughter today, in fact. 🙂
          I wonder what you would have thought of the series had you watched it. I think you’d probably have been disappointed. Reading is better for the imagination.

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  7. Steven

    Once again you have explored an interesting area and delivered a nice summary. I had not given previous thought about the history of playgrounds until reading your item. I do remember that in my day, playgrounds were made of wood planks/slabs, metal and rubber (for some swing seats) and usually had a sandy or wood-chip ground for bedding. Colour (if any) was a single one, painted on the metal. Thinking about it now, they were probably designed for easier construction by the local authority. Swings, see-saws and the metal slippery-dip were the main objects back then (maybe with one of those round-about/merry-go-round things if it was a notable playground). Now the construction has changed to metal and plastic, with wood largely gone and that rubbery flooring. Multiple bright coloured plastic pieces and colour laminated metallic panels has certainly made modern playgrounds more noticeable. They now generally require specialist construction. I look forward to your list one day.

    I do like your fiction (with a slight twist on the theme), although I must admit that I don’t quite understand the ending (which makes it quite intriguing to me). Miss has a slight disability maybe?

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for your comment, Steven. I’m tempted to respond like one of the Four Yorkshire Men. You had “sandy or wood-chip ground for bedding”. We had the hard worn earth! 🙂 Like you, I remember very little colour in any of the equipment. Steel slides that baked in the sun and burnt bottoms on the way down, long board swings with splinters for unsuspecting fingers, and monkey bars that were too high and had nothing soft to fall on. Ah, yes. Those were the days! (Not!) I think there have been great improvements in playground equipment, but there has also been something lost. Pauline summed up some of it quite nicely in her comment. I think plastic doesn’t get as hot as the steel did. Funny thing is: it didn’t actually stop us using the equipment. We just had to be clever about how we did it.
      Thanks for your comment about the flash. I did struggle with it – three total re-writes and many edits. I think sometimes I try to put too much in it. The situation was meant to portray an adult with hard-won confidence (self-determination) returning to the scene of her troubled childhood, and being knocked off balance momentarily by the sight of the playground, that had never been a happy place for her. Ah well, next time!
      I do appreciate that you take the time to read and respond with such thought.

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  8. thecontentedcrafter

    Yikes Norah – don’t start me on play and play grounds! 🙂 I walk with Siddy on a vast empty field which has one small patch beside the path, with play equipment. You can see where previously acceptable items have been pulled out and replaced by what now passes as ‘safe’ play. Where the see-saw once was there is now something that resembles a saddle, perched upon a rigid spring. If you sit on it it wobbles ever so slightly. A brick wall, placed at the back of this little area was recently pulled down. It was a ball wall – you know, kids could practise with their tennis racquets [there’s a court adjacent] or other balls – any how, apparently one child attempted to climb up the wall, hurt himself, so the wall got knocked down. I sometimes see kids in this playing area. Mostly they are toddlers happily swinging in the safety swings pushed by mum or dad, or older kids looking to find something to challenge them. As there isn’t, they wander off again, still looking……… Most of the time the play area is deserted. Our children are kept so safe, they do not know where their edges are anymore and they have no opportunities to develop respect for their own limits. It has a knock on effect! Play is so important and has always been an avenue for for children to settle into their bodies, to develop their brain and kinaesthic abilities and, as the Finns so clearly understand, to balance academia with activity.

    Sigh – sorry Norah – your posts are always so interesting!! ❤

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for your comment, Pauline. Our ‘safe’ and lifeless playground are a sad reflection of our need to cottonwool, often for fear of litigation. These words are so true: “Our children are kept so safe, they do not know where their edges are anymore and they have no opportunities to develop respect for their own limits.” I wonder how much energy spent in destructive activities could have been better spent in appropriately challenging play areas. Hitting a ball against a wall is a good way of getting rid of that excess energy.
      I’m pleased you enjoy the posts, Pauline, and am always delighted to receive the additional wisdom of your comments. Thank you. 🙂

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    1. Norah Post author

      I can’t say with any authority. I’d have to do some research, but I think our concept of childhood itself is fairly new. I guess as life expectancy increases, so does childhood.
      I was thinking of Marnie as I wrote the story. Thank you for recognising her situation. I was thinking of her return to the place of her childhood and being faced with memories of playground taunts, momentarily destabilising her hard-won equilibrium.

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