Rethinking the schoolyard

By Laura

A study at the University of Western Ontario reported in the Globe and Mail suggests that traditional school playgrounds are linked to obesity. The article points to these reasons:

Most Canadian school playgrounds are built in the if-you-build-it-they-will-play tradition of schoolyard architecture: Flat, barren expanses of asphalt with little seating, less shade, and one monolithic metal play structure.

During recess time in the spring there’s no shade, and in winter, “half the school population is waiting for it to end, plastered against the door,” said Cam Collyer, program director for Evergreen, a national charity that has rebuilt nearly 3,000 playgrounds.

He said that for many years, playground design amounted to picking a gym set out of a catalogue.

OK, so if current playgrounds aren't working for kids, let's change them. However, I wonder if there are other things at work here. If you've spent much time in a schoolyard recently, you'll know that there are lots of rules: In some schools, there's no playing tag or other boisterous play, kids are segregated by age group, and  most swings and other potentially hazardous structures have been ripped out of playgrounds. These measures are all in the name of safety, which is hard to argue with, except I wonder if the risk might just be worth it. Kids play: It's what they're built to do and how they learn essential social skills, like sharing and working in a group. I'm all for optimizing play areas, but let's also optimize kids' ability to make the most of them.

What is your kids' schoolyard like? Do you think some safety measures go too far and get in the way of kids' play?

Image by dolanh via Flickr.

This article was originally published on Aug 31, 2011

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