An open letter to ASTM, and to anyone who wants to see a thoughtful approach to playground safety

The American standards body ASTM International is planning a major change to playground safety standards. This post (including a joint open letter to ASTM from Robin Sutcliffe – chairman of the UK Play Safety Forum – and me) is a direct plea to put this proposal on hold pending a wider review.

The proposal – to tighten up the impact absorbency thresholds for playground surfacing – may sound purely technical. In fact, it is far more profound, as my regular collaborator Bernard Spiegal has argued. What is more, it could have far-reaching consequences, potentially leading to hundreds of millions of dollars of additional expenditure by schools, municipalities and others, the removal of equipment, and widespread playground closures. Its effects could be felt far beyond the USA, given the global push to normalize product safety standards.

Despite its implications, the proposal has so far had almost no debate beyond ASTM. This post, and the open letter below, aim to persuade ASTM to think again, and to open up this important topic to anyone who wants to see a more thoughtful approach to playground safety.

Playground in housing estate

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Worried about the ‘zero risk’ approach to childhood? Relief is now just a click away

Cover image for No FearI am pleased to announce that my 2007 book No Fear: Growing up in a risk averse society can now be downloaded direct from this website as a pdf, thanks to my publishers Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

I am also pleased to announce that the mighty Playscapes playground design blog will be offering No Fear as a free-to-download resource. The offer coincides with that blog’s publication of the first of a series of design-related pieces of mine which are to be reposted on the blog.

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Simple pleasures: the swing

It is good to be reminded of the value of life’s simplest pleasures. Like the pleasure of feeling your suspended body sway smoothly through space on a swing. Swinging is an act of effortless grace: rising and falling on a fixed arc that flows first with, then against the pull of gravity.

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Want to take a more balanced approach to risk? Here’s the tool you have been waiting for

Children using toolsToday marks a new phase in the move to a more balanced, thoughtful approach to risk management risk in children’s play and learning, with the launch of a short, easy-to-use assessment tool.

The risk-benefit assessment (RBA) form for the first time gives councils, schools and others an authoritative, practical document to help them weigh up risks and benefits. It is published by Play Scotland in partnership with Play England, Play Wales and PlayBoard Northern Ireland, and was commissioned and developed by the Play Safety Forum.

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Play Wales funding reprieve

Play Wales logo with tickGood news from Wales: following an international campaign, the Welsh Government has decided to continue to provide funding for Play Wales. This reprieve, three months after the Welsh Government’s original decision, means that the charity can continue to promote children’s right to play, within and beyond Wales.

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Playful urban spaces: a lesson from Bilbao

I was in Bilbao a few weekends ago and spent several evenings in Plaza Nueva, a square in the old town and a popular weekend meeting place for local people. While grown-ups enjoyed drinks and tapas (or to use the Basque term, pintxos) in bars under the elegant colonnades, the central area was humming with children playing. Ball games, scooter races, chalk-picture-drawing, heely tricks (remember Heelys?) and chit-chat were just some of what was in the mix.

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Aussies push to expand the horizons of childhood

This post shares news of more positive developments in Australia, including a new video promoting street play, and some new state-wide networks that aim to reconnect children with nature.

First, street play: this video is from Gavin Fairbrother and the OPAL (Obesity Prevention and Lifestyle) project based at Campbelltown in South Australia, and spreads the word about the potential of the model originally drawn up by Playing Out here in the UK.

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