Editor's letter

In the praise of play

The importance of play for children is widely understood; it fosters creativity, independence and problem solving, and helps social, emotional and physical development. Most importantly of all – it’s fun

Despite this, opportunity for unstructured outdoor play is steadily decreasing. A 2016 study, funded by the UK government, revealed that time spent playing outside has shrunk drastically, and a fifth of children didn’t play outside at all on an average day.

Access to green spaces is vital. In cities in particular, well designed playgrounds play a vital role in encouraging children to be active and bringing communities together.

On page 56 we interview Ole Barslund Nielsen, co-founder of Danish playground design firm Monstrum. Monstrum design beautiful, imaginative wooden playgrounds that make me wish I was a child again. Rather than going for a cookie cutter approach, each playground is unique and inspired by its location. A world away from dull, standard-issue playgrounds, Monstrum’s creations are designed to help fire the imagination of the children who use them.

Nielsen and Monstrum co-founder Christian Jensen met when they were working as set designers, and this background can be seen in the theatrical, storytelling nature of their spaces. Their Theater Park playground in Pildammsparken, Malmö, Sweden, features a big stage where children can act to imaginary (or real) cheering crowds, a spinning theatre, and a movie kiosk.

Another important aspect of their playgrounds is an element of risk. Children need the opportunity to assess danger, according to Nielsen, and Monstrum’s playgrounds are designed to facilitate risk-taking. “Children should be allowed to experience danger and feel the tickle in the stomach that occurs when you take a chance,” he says. “Falling and failing can be a good thing.”

I’ve been really interested to watch the growth in the movement towards creating children’s playgrounds that include an element of risk. For a long time, the focus was on minimising harm, resulting in uninspiring play spaces.

As a mother, I understand the instinct to minimise risk for our children, but they need opportunities to test their boundaries and learn to assess danger.

In the UK and the US, adventure playgrounds are making a comeback. On New York’s Governor’s Island, the Yard is a hugely popular space where parents sign a waiver and wait outside while their children climb, slide down poles and use tyres, old junk, hammers, saws and nails to destroy and remake their environment. According to Rebecca Faulkner, executive director of play:groundNYC, the non profit organisation that designed and built the facility: “It’s 50,000 square feet of creative joy.”

Whether it’s a beautifully crafted wooden playground or a junk yard filled with debris, the important thing is that kids have spaces they can call their own.

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