Category Archives: Outdoor play

Outdoor play

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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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

What’s so bad about a father trying to make the world a more play-friendly place?

This weekend’s New York Times has a major feature and profile on Mike Lanza and his Playborhood campaign to make neighbourhoods more play-friendly. And it’s whipping up a storm. In this piece, I give my take on the campaign and my response to the key criticisms.

First, some background. Lanza’s rallying cry is “turn your neighborhood into a place for play” – a goal he has been pursuing for at least nine years. His book and blog are first and foremost a set of practical advice, ideas and case studies for achieving that goal.

Lanza first got into the issue because of his concerns as a dad bringing up three children. What drives him is, in large part, the contrast between his own typically free-range 70s childhood and the highly constrained lives of most children today. I share his view that this change marks a profound loss.

Lanza’s campaign is aimed squarely at parents. He has three big messages for them: you should care about your kids’ play and everyday freedoms, you can and should take steps to expand them, and you should start with your own home and neighbourhood. The youtube video below introduces Lanza and his Playborhood idea.

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The R word: risk, uncertainty and the possibility of adverse outcomes in play

Let’s say that, like me, you are signed up to the idea that we’ve become too overprotective and anxious about children in their play. What language should we use to make the case for a better approach? In particular, does the word ‘risk’ – for instance, in the term ‘risky play’ – help or not?

Lunchtime at Beacon Rise Primary School

UK play advocate Adrian Voce – my successor at what became Play England – has questioned the use of the term ‘risk’. While recognising the progress that has been made on the place of risk in play, he says:

Although ‘risky’ and ‘adventurous’ are, in a sense, synonymous, the latter word has an unarguably more positive meaning. It also captures much better the essence of children at play – wanting to push the boundaries, test their limits and, sure, take some risks – but in the pursuit of fun and excitement, not the reckless endangerment that the term ‘risky play’ can evoke… ‘Risky’ cannot be the most appropriate word to describe the opportunities and environments we want to provide for them, or the practice we adopt in doing so.

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Sir Ken Robinson speaks on outdoor play

Screengrab of Sir Ken RobinsonEducationalist Sir Ken Robinson, known to millions for his work on creativity in schools, yesterday shared his thoughts on outdoor play.

The 20-minute talk, in a video recorded as part of the Dirt is Good campaign sponsored by Persil (in the UK) and Omo (in many other countries), gives some powerful messages to parents about why play matters for children’s development and learning. This post shares some edited highlights from the talk. You can stream the full talk at the end of the post.

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