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."
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 playground, their favorite play activities still have nothing to do with it. (Check out our Kids talk about natural play section.)
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 and making sand castles, or digging in the dirt looking for worms, or playing with the water pump. Natural play!
The obvious question is: why do we spend so much money on playground equipment when kids would rather play -- and learn -- on something else?