Reflections on the Natural Phenomena conference

Recently my work has had a strong focus on the built environment: how the decisions and actions of planners, highway engineers, designers and others shape children’s lives. Which has meant that the other side of my work – connecting with educators, playworkers and others who work directly with children – has taken a back seat.

But last weekend at the Natural Phenomena conference in Whangarei, New Zealand, the educators were to the fore. And it reminded me that there’s nothing quite like hanging out with people who are deeply committed to children, and deeply engaged in the sometimes messy, sometimes challenging, sometimes joyous art and practice of supporting children’s learning and play. So at the risk of seeming self-indulgent, I’d like to share some of the feelings and experiences of that remarkable time and place.

The Wild Woods: venue for the Natural Phenomena conference

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Is Calgary ready for child-friendly urban planning?

Calgary is the Canadian big city that looks and feels most like many US cities: sprawling, ever-expanding, and hugely car-centred. The very idea that the built form of the city could be great for children is likely to prompt a raised eyebrow from urban planners, if not outright derision.

I have just spent a week in the city, at the International Play Association conference, and then interviewing people and visiting sites as part of my Churchill Fellowship project looking at child-friendly urban planning. And my top-of-the-head response is that those urbanists would not be far wrong. But could this be about to change?

I’ll come back to that later. First, a thumbnail sketch of the city’s built form. Three broad types of residential neighbourhood form a classic urban typology for the city.

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Could street play hold the key to creating more sustainable, livable cities?

This week marked a milestone in the UK street play movement, with the publication of three new reports.

The first is an evaluation report by the University of Bristol [pdf link], published by Play England, which looked mainly at the health outcomes for children. The second is a report [pdf link] from Playing Out, the Bristol-based national hub for street play, of a survey of people directly involved in street play sessions. The third, written by me [pdf link] and also published by Play England, explores the issues around taking street play initiatives forward in disadvantaged areas.

This blog post from Playing Out gives a helpful overview of the three reports (as well as a flavour of the high level of press interest).

Boy lying on skateboard in street with child cyclist behind

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The child as an indicator species for cities: reflections on Philadelphia

This post starts by sharing an op-ed piece of mine published in the Philadelphia Enquirer last week to coincide with my trip to the city. It is followed by a postscript with reflections on the visit. I’ve also inserted images of some of the parks I saw.

Spruce Street Harbor Park

Spruce Street Harbor Park

Imagine you take a time machine trip to 2037. You step out and start to explore your city. What sights and sounds would convince you that the Philly of the future was thriving?

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Designing Streets for Play – Research and Observation – Playing Out

cover of Helen Forman literature review on residential street design published by Playing OutThis is a quick share of a very useful report pulling together key research and other material on designing streets for play. The report was written for the campaigning group Playing Out by Helen Forman, an architect in the housing field and volunteer activator for the group.

I have long argued that making residential streets more child-friendly is crucial to expanding their everyday freedoms. This literature review is an essential resource for anyone who shares this view. Just click here to download a copy.

Helen’s blog post on the report is below.

There’s a house on a corner near where I live in suburban Leeds that makes me happy nearly every time I pass it. Not because it’s anything special architecturally, but because there are almost always children playing in the street outside. Further into town there’s a Victorian terrace, where cycling past once I smiled as I …

Source: Designing Streets for Play – Research and Observation – Playing Out

Join in a global day to change the way children learn and play

As a teacher or educator, the classroom is your domain. You are in charge. You set the rules and the learning goals. Your children are close at hand, and under a close watch.

Girl pond-dippingOnce you leave the classroom, things change. You have less control. Children have more space, literally and metaphorically. So there is a shift in responsibilities. And this can feel frightening.

So why would you consider taking learning outside? And why would you give any thought to what children learn through free play?

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A rare glimpse into a messy oasis of adventure play

Adventure play is enjoying a moment. And at the centre of this is The Land, an adventure playground in Wrexham, North Wales. So it is great to see a 14-minute documentary feature on The Land – from US filmmaker Erin Davis – being made freely available online. Click on the image below to watch it.

The Land video screengrab

It was Hanna Rosin’s 2014 Atlantic magazine cover story ‘The Overprotected Kid’ that thrust The Land into the public eye. It also features prominently in the new book Messy by Tim Harford, writer and self-styled ‘undercover economist’ (and front man for one of my favourite BBC Radio 4 shows, More or Less). Harford’s take is revealing: Continue reading