I get it, I do. There are so many calls on our time, our sympathies, our support, our allegiances. So many causes to champion – all valid, all worthy – and there’s a limit, right? But what if I told you that there is a crisis that is, by and large, not being recognised and furthermore, unless rectified will have a lasting effect on children’s health and well-being for generations?
What if I also told you that the solution to this crisis is actually a relatively quick, cheap fix with a high return on investment; that, if the government invests now in public outdoor play provision to reverse the alarming decline in the number of community playgrounds, this crisis could be averted?
At this point you might be thinking – ‘playgrounds, really? Surely there are more important things to worry about.’ But providing children with the opportunity to play safely outside is just about as fundamental – and important – as it gets. The vast majority of children live in urban environments and without safe, local and accessible playgrounds they will have, quite literally, nowhere to play. This is particularly true of children in the most disadvantaged areas.
With the increasing lure of technology based pastimes indoors and the decline in public play provision, this could possibly be the first generation who grow up without experiencing outdoor play and, in the midst of an obesity and mental health epidemic, this simply makes no sense. Playgrounds have been a staple of childhood for years. A unique environment, the playground combines freedom to explore and play freely with a sense of safety. At the heart of communities, they are meeting places not only for children, but for parents, grandparents and friends. They are places for children to play without direct adult supervision but under the watchful collective eyes of the community.
Playgrounds are unique in that they have this element of controlled risk – not only from the equipment itself which should, at its best, challenge children to explore their capabilities – but also from the fact that playgrounds allow parents to grant their children age-appropriate freedom. For generations, children have been encouraged by parents to play outside without them and both children and parents have benefited hugely from this.
Independent play of this nature – where children feel confident to play outside without adults in charge and, likewise, parents feel confident allowing their children this level of autonomy – is only possible if the local environment supports it. And it’s in this respect that playgrounds come into their own, providing that ideal balance, that ‘sweet spot’ between safety and freedom which allows children to truly flourish.
The rapid decline in the numbers of playgrounds is something that, unless reversed, society will come to deeply regret. Playgrounds are not usually replaced once they’ve vanished. All around us, communities are losing something fundamental to them – a place for children to play outdoors. This generation of children are being driven indoors to spend most of their free time alone, on screens and inactive.
It is often the most basic, fundamental parts of our lives that get overlooked because we take them for granted and when these parts are lost, they are the ones we come to regret the most and feel their loss most keenly. In many ways, we absolutely should be able to take public playgrounds for granted, so crucial are they to children’s health and wellbeing. They should never be under threat or the land they stand on be up-for-grabs. But here’s the headline folks – they are – and we must fight to save them before it’s too late.
Take a look at our campaign page