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How Baby-Boomers May Have Got it Right with Unstructured Play

When dedicated playgrounds first started appearing in the late 19th century, they were a fresh, new and exciting addition to the urban landscape. Through the course of the early 20th century, public playgrounds became more and more commonplace. Parents and city authorities had come to realise the great benefits that playgrounds presented. For one thing, they were safer than playing in the busy streets of rapidly growing cities. Furthermore, it soon became apparent that playgrounds provide a stimulating environment for children to learn through play and develop many skills that will benefit them through the course of their lives.

20th Century Divide

Through the course of the 20th-century playgrounds became more imaginative and challenging for children. This made them even more fun and provided for better learning experiences for the children. Then in 1980’s things began to change. Starting in the US, new safety regulations changed the rules around playground design and many play activities that were once allowed were now considered unsafe. This notion soon spread to Europe and the UK. This has resulted in playgrounds becoming more uniform and perhaps, a little boring, with a focus on safety diminishing imaginative design. However the tide has started to turn and many are questioning the over-emphasis on safety to the detriment of the positive learning, with the aim now on raising the creative standards while maintaining that safety.

The concept of adventure playgrounds began in Europe in the early 20th century, with the idea of giving children constructive tasks with a little less adult supervision. After World War II, the idea became very popular in the UK. After a few decades of this, the prevailing forms turned again, with highly supervised “helicopter parenting” growing in popularity, beginning in the US in the 1980’s. The term is used to describe parents who hover over their children, watching their every move, to make sure they keep out of harm’s way. This form of parental supervision has gradually found its way to Europe and the UK. The effect of helicopter parenting can be that children no longer use their own initiative as much as they did in earlier generations. They are also prevented from taking risks that would allow them to learn many skills naturally.

A Healthy Balance

There is now a new school of thought that is encouraging the development more challenging playground equipment that will encourage children to push boundaries and explore more. This comes with the notion that children should be allowed more freedom to explore, with supervision taking place from a bit of a distance. This will give playground designers more freedom to explore imaginative ideas and in the end develop the imagination and problem-solving skills of children.

The challenge now lies to combine the need for safety with the benefits of risk taking and adventure when it comes to fun and education. This is something we are highly passionate about, bringing that combination to the home, where children feel as if they are exploring on their own adventure, growing in confidence and independence, while the parent or carer gets to supervise from a comfortable position. They can get on with household tasks, or sit and enjoy the outdoors, knowing the child is safe in their own garden setting with equipment designed to foster both excitement and safe use.

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