Why do all playgrounds look alike?
We always begin playground workshops the same way. We ask people to think back to a Saturday morning when they were 8-12 years old and to tell us what their favorite outdoor play activity was, either something they did by themselves or with their friends.
- Before you read further, what was your favorite outdoor play experience? (For this exercise, exclude sports, shopping, electronic toys, and motorized vehicles.)
- Take a moment and write it down. Was it rolling down a hill? Chasing your friends? Building forts in the woods? Playing in the water? Watching insects in a field? Throwing snowballs? Playing four square or statue? Or just talking with your best friend on a bench under a tree?
- So write it down, and then read on.
Whatever it was, playground equipment probably wasn’t part of it. It never is. Very, very few adults in all our meetings and workshops have said "my favorite outdoor play activity was sliding on the playground slide," or "playing on the monkey rings," or "going up and down on the see-saw," or even "going to the playground."
The funny thing is that when we work in schools, we ask children the same question, and even though they have all this safe, expensive, manufactured equipment on their playgrounds, their favorite play activities still have nothing to do with the equipment.
They like flying kites, or damming water, or bouncing the tennis ball against the wall, or playing tag or king of the hill using the big boulder in the middle of the playground, or throwing snowballs at a tree, or watching butterflies and ants, or rolling down the hill, or sitting on the stone wall with a friend, or making fairy houses, or digging in the sand. Basically, they like playing in nature!
The obvious question than is: why do we spend so much money on playground equipment when kids would rather play -- and learn -- on something else, just like you did?
We think the answer is pretty simple: playgrounds are usually a project undertaken by busy parents and/or teachers, and it's very easy to do a quick search on the Internet for playground equipment companies (there are a huge number), and either get their catalog or look at their online store and place an order. "We have X amount of money, We can buy these six pieces of equipment, and we're done."
Nevermind the fact that you didn't like that equipment when you were kids, and your kids today don't like that equipment either (see what children say about equipment here).
So don't repeat mistakes of the past. Don't waste your money on playground equipment that will eventually bore your children and make them much more prone to accidents. And don't forget that in 15 or 20 years, that equipment will need replacing because it will be past the point of being able to be repaired and it will no longer meet the safety requirements, So whatever money you spend today you're going to be spending the same amount of money again in 15 years (plus inflation, of course).
Natural playgrounds don't fall apart. The three-dimensional landscapes don't deteriorate or go out of code, and if it's designed properly, your children will never get bored, no matter how many years they spend on the playground.