In the cultural conversation about play and risk, adventure playgrounds – proper ones I mean, with timber structures, tools, junk materials and skilled workers – are very much on the radical side of the argument. But how dangerous are they, really?
One American school has conducted a natural experiment that helps to answer this question. And the results – set out in a report from the leading playwork group Pop-Up Adventure Play – cast doubt on standard approaches and thinking.
Parish school in Houston, Texas is a private school for children with a range of disabilities and conditions. It is highly unusual in that it has, on one site, two very different types of play space.
Parish School adventure playground. Photo: Alex Cote
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.
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 →
Here is a true gem from the archives of play: extended video footage of Lady Allen of Hurtwood. Lady Allen is the foremost figure in the history of children’s play in the UK (I reviewed her classic Planning for Play – available as a pdf from the marvellous Playscapes blog – in a previous post). The video focuses on the staffed adventure playgrounds Lady Allen created in the 1960s and 1970s to provide play opportunities for disabled children, some of which continue today under the management of the charity Kids.
Some health warnings: at times the language used in the video to describe the children is old-fashioned, inappropriate, and even offensive to today’s ears – though in Lady Allen’s day the terms were standard. Also, the video is somewhat grainy and jumpy. Oh – and Lady Allen’s accent could cut glass at 20 paces. But do not let any of this put you off, or you will miss out on as clear a manifesto for adventurous play as you are ever likely to see.
Play space design in the UK has undergone a renaissance. Lottery and government funding (while it lasted), inspirational ideas from overseas, and a more balanced approach to risk have all helped to fuel a growing number of great places for play. I suspect that most UK readers of this review can think of at least one new public playground in their area that looks altogether more inviting, engaging and challenging than anything that went before.
For some at the forefront of this movement – and I include myself here – items like the ‘springy chicken’ epitomise an impoverished way of thinking about what appeals to children. So when Barbara Hendricks in her book Designing for Play calls the ‘spillophøne’ – a closely related species – “a beautiful design”, I know my views of what makes for a good play space will be challenged. Continue reading →