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Coram’s Fields

I spent some time at Coram’s Fields this afternoon, exploring the various play opportunities and watching my son Daniel and several other children play tag and race each other on another good-size zip line.  This park is interesting because it has both what might be considered ‘standard play equipment’, and a more ‘adventurous’ play area.  The more adventurous play area took a bit of finding, as it is tucked in the back corner of the park, and is hardly visible from the entrance. The pictures below provide a look at all of the play provision on the park, beginning with the area closest to the entrance, then moving towards the back of the park and the slightly more challenging play area.

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I have a feeling that this is not how the designer was intending this structure to be used, below.

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Daniel: “Dad, let’s go, this park is boring.”

Me: “Daniel, wait, look, what’s that over there?  I can see a zip line, and a huge climber/ treehouse thing!”

Daniel: “Where?  I can’t see anything.”

Me: “Look, there, past all those ladies!”

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And last of all…I found this in a shop window this afternoon, below.

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Tomorrow….Glamis!  I can’t wait….it should be a brilliant, and possibly rainy, afternoon of play.  Stay tuned.

 

 

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Apples and Pears Adventure Playground

This afternoon I had the fabulous good fortune to visit Apples and Pears Adventure Playground on Pearson Street in Hackney.  It was a very interesting place, essentially a grassy lot behind a high wooden fence, across the street from some housing blocks and what appeared to be a school.  I had the pleasure of meeting Amanda, one of the playworkers at the playground, who was very willing to chat about the children who use the playground, how she views her role as a playworker, the different types of play that the children engage in at the playground, and a bit about how some of the amazing structures and swings were built.  I have decided to write a bit under some of the  photos, as I think that will be a useful way to describe what is being shown.  As you will notice, there are no photographs of any children using the playground.  While there were probably twenty children playing on the playground while I was there, Amanda requested that I not photograph the children, and I respected her wishes, as I had no parental permissions.  I was pleasantly surprised to see so much grass on this playground, and no artificial safety surfacing anywhere in sight.  Lovely.  Enjoy!  I certainly did.

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The first thing that caught my eye when I walked through the gate, above, was this massive tower for a zip line, below.  This tower was huge!  It must have be at least twenty or twenty-five feet high.

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Here is a view from the top of the zip line tower, below.

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Towards the end of the zip line course was this platform/ stage construction up on a rise, below.

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Here is another view that shows how the structure has the appearance of a stage, below.

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Here is a view of the playground from the stage, below.

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In the upper righthand corner of the above photo you can see the red ‘shed’, which is an indoor space for the children, with a table tennis game, a table where several boys were building with LEGOS, a few comfortable chairs, and the dress-up clothes and costumes you can see below, which the children are free to take outside to the playground and play with as they feel like.

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Here is another view of the ‘shed’, with an interesting swing in the foreground, below.

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Against the back fence of the playground were three of these little huts/ dens, nestled in amongst the trees.  According to Amanda, the children love to take pieces of fabric and other loose parts into these dens to create their own spaces, clubhouses, rooms, as they see fit.  Amanda told me about one boy who would always spend the afternoon in one of these dens, because, she said, at home he had to share a bedroom with three brothers, and this den afforded him a rare chance for privacy and peace and quiet.

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In the center of the playground was a swingset, below.

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There was a gigantic wooden timber climbing structure in the back corner of the playground.

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I decided to explore the climbing structure, so I began by climbing up this wooden ladder, below.

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Then it was across an extremely wobbly bridge, almost lost my footing, and up a short ramp, below.

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I could have been done with it and gone down this slide, below.

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But I kept on and instead climbed up inside this big plastic tunnel, below.

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Here’s another view that shows the slide, the plastic tunnel, the rope netting and the blue swinging rings underneath the structure, below.

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There is a small covered area outside for the children to use in various ways.  Amanda mentioned that sometimes they work at arts and crafts on the tables, below.

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Here a few final photos to try and give a sense of the larger space of the playground, below.

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In this photo, on the right side, you can glimpse a corner of the small basketball court that is on the playground, below.  It had been decorated for the Queen’s Jubilee, Amanda was taking down the decorations when I arrived.

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There’s more to come tomorrow, so stay tuned… 🙂

Regent’s Park

Today was a bit slow on the playground front, as I found myself somewhat fatigued from my trip out to Bristol yesterday.  However, I did make my way to Regent’s Park later in the afternoon today, and I was intrigued to find two play areas in close proximity to each other.  One was a fenced in, plastic and metal, typical playground with several different climbing structures with metal and rope ladders and platforms, the usual sort of thing you might see on a playground with components ordered from a large equipment supplier’s catalog.

About one hundred feet from this fenced-in playground, on a slight rise, looking as if a giant had dropped a handful of toothpicks or matchsticks onto the grass, was a timber log climbing structure very similar to the one that I found at Jubilee Gardens several days ago.  It was quite beautiful, and again it was a great example of how a play climbing structure can be designed and built to intrigue and challenge, to provoke and to perplex, and to offer opportunity for risk in play.  I had an interesting conversation with my son Daniel after he finished clambering around on the wooden logs.  As he climbed down he said that the timber climbing structure made him feel nervous.  “Why?”, I asked.  “Because it kind of feels like you could really fall if you’re on top of some of the logs.”, he replied.  “Which playspace do you like better, this one with the logs, which makes you feel nervous, or the one over there with the fence and the regular climber?”, I asked him.  “Well, I like this one better.”, he replied.  “You do? Even though it makes you feel nervous?”, I asked.  “Yeah, I mean, feeling nervous isn’t that bad.  It’s actually kind of exciting.  It’s harder to get to the top, and that other one is sort of for little kids.  Here it’s harder.  It’s harder to figure out how to climb it.  And I think that’s pretty good.”

So here for your enjoyment are photographs of the beautiful timber-log climbing structure I found today at Regent’s Park.  Stay tuned…tomorrow I should be getting to Apples and Pears Adventure Playground and several other spots as well…should be a good post tomorrow night.

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What is Playwork? Answer: It is not Playworks.

I felt that it would be beneficial to include this post for some of my American colleagues and friends, as I know that in the United States there is an increasingly popular program called Playworks which is run in many elementary schools, including the school where I teach.  It is very important to know that the organization Playworks in the US has nothing to do with playwork in the United Kingdom, and I thought it would be useful in this post to lay out the Playwork Principles, foundational theoretical and philosophical statements that serve as a backbone to playwork in the United Kingdom.  Without further ado, the Playwork Principles:

  • All children and young people need to play. The impulse to play is innate. Play is a biological, psychological and social necessity, and is fundamental to the healthy development and well being of individuals and communities.
  • Play is a process that is freely chosen, personally directed and intrinsically motivated. That is, children and young people determine and control the content and intent of their play, by following their own instincts, ideas and interests, in their own way for their own reasons.
  • The prime focus and essence of playwork is to support and facilitate the play process and this should inform the development of play policy, strategy, training and education.
  • For playworkers, the play process takes precedence and playworkers act as advocates for play when engaging with adult led agendas.
  • The role of the playworker is to support all children and young people in the creation of a space in which they can play.
  • The playworker’s response to children and young people playing is based on a sound up to date knowledge of the play process, and reflective practice.
  • Playworkers recognise their own impact on the play space and also the impact of children and young people’s play on the playworker.
  • Playworkers choose an intervention style that enables children and young people to extend their play. All playworker intervention must balance risk with the developmental benefit and well being of children.
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Scrapstore Playpods, Early Years

Today I had the amazing opportunity to visit with Kirsty at Scrapstore Playpods in Bristol. Scrapstore Playpods is a brilliant program that provides schoolchildren the opportunity to play at recess periods with a wide variety of recycled, loose-parts materials, such as tires, plastic crates, rope netting, dress-up clothes and costumes, pipes, cardboard boxes and tubes, pieces of foam, etc.

There are several different ways in which schools utilize Scrapstore Playpods, the most common being to have a large shed erected on the recess yard. In the shed are stored all the loose parts materials, which are sourced from the actual Scrapstore itself and delivered to the school. For younger, preschool age children, the shed is often much smaller and less imposing, scaled down to the smaller size of the children. The Scrapstore itself is quite amazing- it is a combination arts-crafts materials supply store/ recycled materials warehouse. The recycled materials in the warehouse come largely from area businesses and corporations, which are able to save money in that by donating materials to the Scrapstore they do not have to pay taxes and fees to have the material hauled away as trash.

The philosophy behind the Scrapstore Playpods comes from two important sources. The Playwork Principles, and The Theory of Loose Parts. One of the key Playwork Principles states that “play is a process that is freely chosen, personally directed and intrinsically motivated. That is, children and young people determine and control the content and intent of their play, by following their own instincts, ideas and interests, in their own way for their own reasons.”
The Theory of Loose Parts was developed by Simon Nicholson, and it states: “In any environment, both the degree of inventiveness and creativity, and the possibility of discovery, are directly proportional to the number and kind of variables in it.”

Please enjoy the attached video, which shows preschool and kindergarten aged children using a Scrapstore Playpod at their school.

Diana, Princess of Wales’ Memorial Playground

This morning I visited this playground which is a memorial to the late Princess of Wales.  I was struck by the following quote posted on the sign on the entrance gate:

“The facilities provided comply with European and British legislation.  However it is now recognised that risk taking is an important element of play and physical development.  Parents and carers must note that the design of this playground does allow for a degree of risk.  This is intentionally provided so your child can develop an appreciation of risk in a controlled play environment rather than taking similar risks in the uncontrolled and unregulated wider world.  If you wish to seek further information about this or other aspects of the playground please ask the playground staff, whose role is to monitor and educate parents, carers, and children.”

While I did not notice any play provision that seemed extraordinarily risky, I did find that there were impressive opportunities for children to climb on thick-gauge ropes, as can be seen below in pictures of the large wooden pirate ship, and there were numerous out-of-the-way dens and tunnels and ‘secret places’ that the children could occupy if they wished among the lovely flowering bushes and hedges.  It was interesting to me to see just how easy it was for children to disappear from their parents’ gaze, as children wandered off down shady paths or into different sections of the playground, leaving their parents behind with no sightline to keep a visual awareness of their child’s whereabouts.  It was lovely to see the vast amount of sand provided beneath the pirate ship and also in the adjacent sand/ water play area, with flowing water amongst large and small rocks and boulders, for splashing, digging, and pretend play.  And there were tepees!  It’s not everyday you see tepees on a playground, but as you can see they were an excellent source of shade, and I saw several families in them enjoying picnics.  Please enjoy the photographs below.

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Jubilee Gardens Playground

I found this playground directly behind the London Eye.  It is constructed almost entirely out of immense timbers, attached together to create a very long climbing structure.  Beneath the climbing structure is a thick-gauge rope net, which looks as though it could catch you if you fall from a log as you climb, but the thickness of the rope makes it feel less like it is designed to cushion a fall than to simply provide another opportunity for climbing, sort of a lower level to the structure.  There is a thick rope spider web for climbing on and through, and there is also an interesting rope swing.  The most interesting part about this playground is that the timbers in the climbing structure are arranged to eliminate any uniformity in spacing between logs- the gaps between the logs are completely unpredictable, which requires children to pay extra-close attention to where they place their hands and feet as they attempt to maneuver their way up, over, under, down, and through.  This stands in contrast to a typical pre-fabricated metal or plastic playground climbing structure with ladders that have equally-spaced rungs, or with bridges that are made of equally-spaced boards or slats.  Enjoy the photos below.

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