Health & Safety in action. Womad festival, 2012.
Lack of access to wild places, changes in perceptions of safety (stranger danger), fear of injury and the trend towards digital play in the home have resulted in outdoor play and exploration becoming much less common for children today than it was when I was a kid. Healthy outdoor activity has been replaced with virtual play inside for the majority of urban children, and as a result kids are getting heavier, weaker, less confident. Author Richard Louv calls this ‘nature deficit disorder’ (Last Child in the Woods, 2009)
Children are not learning about the natural world, they are not connected to nature, seasons, growth and decay. And they are not taking small physical risks and challenges that help them learn. The situation is really bad in Europe and America, but even with our relatively small cities and low residential densities New Zealand children are losing touch with the natural world.
The New Zealand State of Play Report (2012) explores what play looks like in New Zealand today for 8 – 12 year old children and concludes that it has reached “such a critical point that has to be addressed today, not tomorrow”.
We need to create, or set aside, a range of programmed and non-programmed play spaces that allow children to explore their world through playing together. While communities generally have a playground with equipment of some sort, much less available is public space for play; play landscapes where landform, trees and native plantings provide the background for physical and creative challenges. Natural play spaces don’t need any play equipment as such, just a landscape that is open for play: mown grass paths; areas of long grass; small shelters and enclosures; artwork and sculpture; bridges and tunnels; balancing and jumping logs; trees and native plants for playing amongst; mounds for running and rolling; and sand, soil and water to get messy. These environments leave room for children to develop their cognitive skills as well as their physical confidence.
As designers of community infrastructure we need to make sure that there is some green space that is stimulating, safe and unprogrammed where children can take physical risks, make mistakes and learn about themselves as well as their environment.
thirty kids having an absolute blast with just one plane tree and a muddy bank.
climbing, balancing, swinging, jumping