In a recent study published by the UBC think tank – HELP (Human Early Learning Partnership) experts are now calling for a freshly “old school” approach to playground design. In recent years due to a movement towards making playgrounds safe we have been removing nature from the playground and replacing it with manmade materials making an environment that is not developmentally stimulating for children.

The study followed the play habits preschoolers and toddlers over 5 years and found that 87 percent of the time children don’t play with equipment provided and when the children did play with the equipment they didn’t play with it “in its intended purpose.”

The study concluded that the equipment “lacked challenge” and that children are drawn to natural materials like mud and trees in lieu of the multi coloured plastic megaliths that we are erecting as playgrounds.

Is it me, or is this another study telling us things we already know? Is it a newsflash to any parent out there that kids like digging in the mud?

First of all, let”s address the fact that children aren”t playing with the equipment for its intended purpose. Frankly this is a good thing, this means that children are using their imaginations, creating their own worlds using their curiosity and abilities to learn more about their surroundings. As parents we see our children using imaginary play all the time. The playground is a great place for children to create new worlds and play as they see fit.

Let”s look at the other issue here. Frankly, if kids want to play in the playground then that”s great; If they want to play in the mud, bushes and grass then that”s great. I think most parents are with me on this, I doubt that there are many parents out there who would force their children to stay within the bounds of playgrounds. Most playgrounds are in parks and so are surrounded by nature any ways, so an idea could be to plan to spend 50% of your time in the playground and 50% of your time available playing in the park.

I do agree with the study, in that we have over-safety proofed our  playgrounds. Where have all those high slides of my childhood gone? Children learn so much from meeting physical challenges at play. I agree that more nature is better in the play environment. Hopefully from this study, some really fun, natural play spaces will emerge in a park near you!

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