Playground Design

Children and Play

‘Play is the work of children’: this expression is now common place among experts in the area of childhood development. Play is no longer regarded as something children do when they have nothing better to be doing. Play is in fact an integral aspect of being a child; as internationally renowned play researchers Opie and Opie have noted, children will play anywhere, anytime and with anything.

Play is the medium through which children learn to understand the world around them. That world is a highly complex set of systems and structures, both physical and social. From early babyhood children begin to explore their physical world through play. As they grow and develop play remains the primary medium through which they develop an understanding of the physics of their environment, its chemistry, and the mathematical possibilities. A jump in a puddle displaces the water, the same water mixed with mud creates a pleasing squishy lump and it takes great skill to fathom the meaning of volume as that water is poured from one container into the
next.

As children develop an understanding of their physical environment they are learning new skills and exploring their own possibilities. From picking up a little marble to leaping across a stream, children learn how to use their smallest digits to their largest limbs to best effect.

At the same time children are learning about their social world. As soon as they begin to interact with other children they learn about turn taking, teamwork and the challenges of sharing. They also begin to develop coping mechanisms for the emotional ups and downs of human interaction.

Children are highly imaginative. They will create whole new worlds around
themselves which are ripe for all kinds of exploration. They are zombies chasing along the footpath, earnest shop keepers sorting their wares and even changing from one to the other in the blink of an eye. They act out the emotional and psychological challenges of the world they live in through the equally complex imaginative world they create. Play is utterly absorbing, children become lost in the moment of a toy car chase through the difficult terrain of a muddy pathway or the complex task of building a den from branches, boxes, old tyres, rubble or whatever they find lying
around. Indoor play offers many possibilities while outdoor play generally implies more space to run, jump, shout or hide and offers children the chance to engage with the possibilities of organic world they live in.

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