From throwaway to stay and play

This tire swing was built on the ruins of what was supposed to be an elevated train.

It's like a deep pocket park, as it were, built out of scrap, on a scrap of land that nobody wanted. Transformed into an invitation to play.

It's called the "Ghost Train" park. Designed and built by Basurama. Basura being Spanish for "trash."

Let us play close attention.



via Boing Boing

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Playgrounds of the 70s

In her photo-essay published on Divine Caroline, Dahlia Rideout contemplates the wonders and dangers of playgrounds of the 70s. She writes: "Growing up in suburban Los Angeles in the 70's meant lots of time at the local playground. Getting out to nature involved a car trip and because most suburbs were planned in the 1950's city parks were always nearby. We had simple needs back then. Most of the playground equipment consisted of basic metal structures with a certain level of danger which kept it exciting."

In those few words - "a certain level of danger which kept it exciting" - Ms. Rideout captures and condemns most of the current concerns that have given rise to today's playgrounds. Jill Harness, in her article comments: "Ridiculous, frivolous lawsuits aside, litigation does, to some extent help keep our society safer. But at what cost? Sure children’s playground equipment of the seventies was dangerous, but that’s what made it so darn fun. What better feeling was there than sticking your head on the edge of the spinning merry-go-round and having a friend push it as fast as possible? And was there anyone cooler than the clique that hung out on the top of the monkey bars?"

Something clearly needs to be reconsidered - the design of playgrounds, the opportunities we provide our children to experience risk, our over-protectiveness, the laws that govern lawsuits, our belief in our children, our faith in play.


via Mental Floss

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Can you guess where this playground is?


Can you guess where this playground is?

Doesn't look any different from your local playground. Nor does the kid.

Could be almost anywhere. Even in a place like Nablus. In Palestine.

Kind of startling to think of finding playgrounds like these in places like Nablus, Palestine.

Kind of startling to think that it's startling.

It was built by a group called Playgrounds for Palestine.

They explain their mission:
"This project is an expression of solidarity with the plight of Palestinian children. It is an affirmation of their right to childhood. It is a minimal recognition of their humanity. It is an act of love."


from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Grounds for playing together


Take a minute to imagine what it might be like to climb, bounce, or just lie down and dream in this amazing net sculpture in Japan's Takino Hillside Park.

Compare this to the kind of dreams you might find on what has become the ubiquitous commercial playground. Sure, there's fun happening, but what kinds of fun? What kinds of dreams? What kinds of people get to play together there?

What about kids with different abilities, like the kinds of kids who play at places like the Clemyjontri Park in Fairfax County, Virginia and imPossible Dream playground in Rhode Island?

It's not just about architecture, not even just about play. It's about community, really. About inclusion. About experiencing the extent of the human family, and claiming your part in it. About how much higher we can grow up when we can grow up together.

What about seniors? Can they play, too?





via Mental Floss

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Kids Play, Water Pumps

More photos of the amazing Play Pump.


 What a perfect demonstration of the healing power of play!

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Playgrounds for All

Let's start with this, from a site called "Shane's Inspiration:

"'Shane's Inspiration' created the first Universally Accessible Playground in the Western United States and the largest in the nation: 'Shane's Inspiration.' Located in Griffith Park, 'Shane’s Inspiration' provides two acres of fully accessible, sensory-rich and physically challenging equipment.

"More importantly, this playground gives children with disabilities and children without the opportunity to play with and learn from each other, thus increasing awareness and acceptance."

Those are my italics. Because the idea of giving people of different abilities the opportunity to play and learn from each other (OK, I said "people," not only children) is, sadly, one that continues to strike most of us as revolutionary. And yet, for those of us who have had the fortune to experience such opportunities, it seems at least as important as the idea of universal education, at least as necessary, at least as vital to the revitalization of humanity.

Shane's Inspiration is one of many sources for inspiring us to reconsider how we build for play, and for whom. One of my favorites is in David Werner's Nothing About Us Without Us - a guide to "Developing Innovative Technologies For, By and With Disabled Persons" using little more than recycled materials, a sense of play, and inexhaustible compassion.



from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Putting the Play back in Playgrounds

Rocky (my best friend and wife, too) heard this on NPR today - a story titled: "Oakland Group Seeks More Play In School Day." It's about a school program taught by a group called Sports4Kids. They explain:
"Since 1996, Sports4Kids has been transforming chaotic playgrounds riddled with fights and inactivity into structured, healthy environments for play. This workshop is designed to provide adults within school communities the tools and strategies to help them create healthy and playful experiences for all students on their playground."
So, OK, it's still adults teaching kids the games that kids should be teaching adults how to play. But its very newsworthiness demonstrates how such a simple idea can speak to such a profound need. May they succeed beyond their wildest.


from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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The Real Big Bopper

Ever play Bop It, Bop It Extreme, or Bop It Extreme 2 even? Heard about Bop-It Download (available in the UK - see also this for more details)?

In that case, you can appreciate the potential playworthiness of a giant playground Bop It.

Called the i.play system, the device purportedly provides "...a great new way to exercise without even realizing that’s what you're doing. You can select single player or multiplayer games, and there is also an option to play at 'base' level which eliminates the high switches. The activity switches have bright LED lights that flash, and switches produce sound so you know which one to go to."

According to the article in Popsci, the "system costs $45,000 installed... All the electronics are powered by a solar panel that comes with the installation. Software updates with new modes and different games are included with any installation. There are currently 30 installed in parks and schools across England."

OK. So maybe it is not so realistic to expect to see such marvels coming soon to your local playground. Maybe things like this will eventually become part of tomorrow's amusement parks or retirement villages or enlightened rehabilitation centers. The point is that technology is leading us to new ways to play, to engaging mind, body, and the other in healthy and healing pursuits. And this is something to celebrate, even now.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Senior Playgrounds (cont'd)

My post on Senior Playgrounds attracted the attention Kate Rauch, senior editor of Caring Currents. Her post led me ultimately to this clip from Good Morning America.

Thus unfolded yet another gift of the Internet - a further connection to a story, and the people, that touched the core of my faith in play.

I must admit that, now that I had become better informed, I found myself feeling slightly disappointed in the way this moment of senior enlightenupment seems to be manifesting itself. The playground had the look of one of those exercise trails. It was clearly designed to appeal to the "use it or lose it" school of mortality - not to the sense of fun, fantasy, freedom that characterizes children's playgrounds. And it was for "seniors only." (I find myself most attracted to the intergenerational approach, as in Intergenerational Playgrounds and this wonderful story of Intergenerational Kickball, and even the kind of play that's being enabled by the infamous Wii).

Nevertheless, it is something to be glad about, this Senior Playground idea. And it leaves one wondering: why don't we see things like this everywhere?



from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Senior Playgrounds

Yes, Virginia, there is a Senior Claus. According to this article in yesterday's Daily Mail, "Britain's first playground for the over-60s" opened yesterday, in Manchester, England. I quote:
"Instead of slides and roundabouts, it is equipped with machines specially designed to provide gentle exercise for different parts of the body such as hips, legs and torso.

"The Massage offers upper body exercise, the Skate trains leg muscles, the Ski works the hips, while the Press tones the stomach and legs.

There are also stations for pull-ups, push-ups and pedalling and, to stretch the mind as well as the body, engravings of quotes from famous philosophers dotted around the park."
Whatever does what, the important thing is that someone who understands our need to play is paying attention to us outgrowns, at last.


via Neatorama
from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Internet Movie Archive - free stuff, free play

Did you know that there's a veritably amazing collection of movies, online, free, courtesy of the voluminously virtual virtues of the Internet Archives? Well, did you?

What does this have to do with fun and games, you might ask. Search, and you will find. For example, this one, part of their Open Source Movie collections, is from Don Ratcliff's study of children's free play in a hallway and on a playground. He explains "Video recorded on an elementary school playground, for comparison with video data in the same school's hallway, conducted for my dissertation research. To access a similar video clip of the hallway, go to http://www.archive.org/details/playground1. Four other video clips of the hallway are available by changing the last digit in the address to a 2, 3, 4, or 5."

Ratcliff's complete dissertation can be found here.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Children at Play: An American History

Howard Chudacoff's Children at Play: An American History explores the changing nature of childhood in American since the 1600s.

The whole notion of childhood as an historical and cultural phenomenon is, in itself, revelatory. Reading Children at Play is to see American children as something like a separate country, with its own government, its own history, its own customs, its own borders.

In a large part, the history of American childhood proves to be a story of borders being constantly redrawn, redefined, reinterpreted. Chudacoff's well-documented and compassionate study shows how children, poor and wealthy, slave and privileged, native and immigrant, surrounded on all sides by adult America, endowed with childlike resilience and endless capacity for passion, have managed to resist hundreds of years of concerted adult efforts to subvert childhood into something other, something safe, predictable and under control.

Children at Play is in many ways a romance. As the book nears its conclusion, and we read about the evermore massive attempts to co-opt children's play, we find our very adult selves hoping against hope that children will once again reclaim their inalienable rights, breaking the shackles of rampant commercialism and overprotective parents so they can once again take up their "quest for independence."

Here, from the end of the chapter "1950 to the Present," Chudacoff gifts us with a ray of hope: "...while media critics and child advocates have fretted about the hypnotic, sedentary quality that television has inflicted on children, there is always the possibility that kids can convert an object as mundane as a TV box into ther own plaything." He goes on to quote a story told by Isabel Alverez. "See, those old television sets used to have the cardboard [backs] with holes in them. The television was on and we could see all of the lights in the back...So we took the cardboard off and put our dolls in there and played that it was the city of Manhattan." Chudacoff concludes: "Kids still find ways to be kids."




from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Adventure playgrounds, again and again

If I told you that this image was of some horrible slum in some impoverished country, you'd probably sigh with compassion for the unfortunates dwelling therein. But if I told you that this was a playground you were looking at, built by kids, and sanctioned by adults, you'd probably respond with something akin to outrage and bulldozers. Which explains, in case further explanation were needed, why the Adventure Playground movement has become so unpopular in this country.

Even if you assembled your local community visionaries and read them this remarkably well-reasoned explanation of all the various benefits to children who play in and create such environments, you would be hard pressed, hard pressed in deed. Even were you to explain to them how, in England, there are not only Adventure Playgrounds, but an entire cadre of trained, educated, professional, gifted playworkers to administer these adventure playgrounds, you would be subject to both disbelief and disparagement. Even if you had read them my previous post about the signficance of the adventure playground - junkyard sports connection, even if you were able to provide them with the informed historical perspective of Howard Chudacoff's insightful explorations into the American history of Children at Play, who says: "...we need to think more carefully about how play, in Tom Sawyer's meaning of something one is not obliged to do, should be the private domain of childhood" - you would be subliminally both booed and hissed at.

And yet, you'd continue fighting the good fight, wouldn't you? Because you know how constructive unstructured play can be. Because you believe in fun.



via Metafilter


from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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The Online Dictionary of Playground Slang

The Online Dictionary of Playground Slang is, perhaps, not something you would share with your children. But it is most definitely something you'd want to share with your inner child.

Here are some of the dictionaries contained therein:
Buzzwords: The 'honey on the language vine.' (beyond the playground)
Dictionary of Playground Slang (Online)
Ghastly Games (my favorite)
Hymns and Arias (well ok - Dirty Ditties, Rugby Songs and Chants)
It's time, it's time, it's time for a Nursery Rhyme!
Limericks - The Poetry of the People
Seedy Songs and Rotten Rhymes - the poetry of the playground.
Wriggly Wigglies (tongue twisters)
There is much to be learned and appreciated here: Memories to be spurred. Childhood to be relived. And especially the yeoman-like devotion of its editor, Chris Lewis, and his minions. But, for me, as your local funsmith, the Online Dictionary of Playground Slang is rich reminder of broad reaches, and sometimes harder realities of the playful path.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Adventures in Junk

Adventure Playgrounds! How could it have taken me so long? The epitome, the apotheosis, the sine qua of junkly pursuits: a playground made entirely of junk. So junky that no one cares what it looks like - just what it plays like. So informal that even kids could build their own playground apparata, should they be so moved.

What you see in the photo is part of one of the few remaining Adventure Playgrounds - this one, in the Berkeley Marina. Why so few? Because they're unsightly. And there just dangerous enough to make kids want to play there again and again and again.

There's a page on the site of theNew York City Department of Parks and Recreation that has a very clear, brief, historical analysis of the Adventure Playground movement:
"Adventure Playground emerged from movements in 1960s Europe that worked to reclaim derelict urban spaces, many caused by the devastation of World War II. Filled with trash and debris, the sites were considered unfit even for parking cars and were therefore abandoned by developers. However, children had no qualms about these forbidden sites, often playing happily in rubble heaps. They seemed to prefer the informality of dirt and scraps to formal jungle gyms. Eventually parents and park designers realized that these non-traditional materials inspired creative, thoughtful play. The adults and children worked together to construct the kinds of play spaces the children wanted."
Here, in the States, the main argument against Adventure Playgrounds is safety. It is that very same concern that is slowly but methodically closing all kinds of playgrounds, all across the United States. I found, in perhaps my favorite Adventure Playground site, this insightful perspective on the "safety issue":
"Conventional playgrounds are safe only if children use them in the way adults intend them to i.e. if children do not climb where they are not supposed to, stay behind railings, and don't climb on top of certain structures. Children do not necessarily abide by these rules and often get injured at conventional playgrounds.

"The safety record of adventure playgrounds in excellent,"states Joe Frost, a professor of education. The Mountain Park adventure playground in Houston, Texas recorded few injuries. Only .014 percent of the 15,000 people attending the park during its first 4 months of operation sustained injuries and these were mostly skinned knees, scrapes, and hammered thumbs."
When you compare these so-called dangers with the benefits, to kids, to community, you have to start wondering about what price we're paying for all this safety. O, sure, the playgrounds themselves may not be pretty. But the play that goes on there, the inventiveness, creativity, the sheer wonder of shared fantasy - is a thing of great and lasting beauty.

Funspotting by Noise

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Intergenerational Playground Larking

In his article "Finns open playgrounds to adults," David Sillito (I hope that's pronounced "silly toe") recently informed the BBC and the world that the "University of Lapland has been researching how to make activity more playful and pleasurable and is convinced that elderly people would benefit from joining in with the children in the local park."

Turns out that Lappset, a Finnish playground equipment company, makes much of their playground equipment large enough for adults. And this provided the perfect opportunity for the Rovaniemi Polytechnic research project. Sillito explains that a "team at Rovaniemi Polytechnic [Finland] [or is that "Funland"?] studied one group of 40 people, aged between 65 and 81, and found there were significant improvements in balance, speed and co-ordination after just three months of larking about on the climbing frames and play equipment." He concludes:
"The team at Lappset feel that making the playground a cross-generational meeting place will help the generations understand one another better and create a better social feel to neighbourhoods.

"The more we can be encouraged to interact with neighbours on a wobbly walkway, the more we will learn to appreciate and trust one another."
This is wonderful news for all us play and playground, community and intergenerational advocates. To discover once again how readily the play community forms, and how comfortably it includes all of its members, young and old, labeled and not - well it is a such an accessible, so to speak, truth. Build large enough playground equipment and we'll come, all of us, and we'll play together, and we'll exercise, all of us, and we'll share delight, entirely.

By the way, three different people in my community of friends and informers mentioned this article to me. This has never happened before. I think we're trying to tell you something.

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Boundless Playgrounds

Boundless Playgrounds "enable all children -- including those with physical, developmental, cognitive and sensory disabilities -- to experience independent, self-directed play, each at his or her own highest level of ability."

What a concept! What a gift! What a valuable, meaningful, personally and socially enriching thing to be doing. Playgrounds designed so that everyone can play, as much as they want. Every body and every mind. I know. I know. It's asking to much to think that adults could play too - that there'd be things for us to play with that would allow us to play with each other, with all our glorious differences.

But let's not get carried away. O, what the heck. Let's. Let's look at this wonderful virtual tour of what might go into a Boundaryless Playground. Let us seriously consider supporting their wonderful cause with, at least with the purchase of a small gift. And let us dream of how boundaryless we could make it.

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A Playground Curriculum

It was 1971. After three years of studying children's playground games, I was finally able to publish a facilitator's guide to children's play. I called it "The Interplay Games Curriculum." It was five volumes. Because so many kids' games are related to each other, I was forced to catalogue the games according to a multi-dimensional, and, unfortunately, highly arcane system, breaking them into abstract categories like: Locating, Expressing, Relating and Adjusting; Individual-Self, Individual-Group, Individual-Team, Team-Teamself, Team-Group, Team-Team; Locus of Control....well, you get the picture. It was big. It was kind of useful, but it was burdened by the linear technologies of the printing press. I even had the first edition hole-punched so teachers could organize games anyway they felt was useful, but, well, despite the vast pioneeringness of it all, it was too cumbersome to be used the way I had hoped. Paper just couldn't convey the interrelatedness and fluidity of playground play.

Which brings me to "Playground Fun," an online compendium of playground games that is everything I hoped my curriculum would be - capturing and conveying the spirt of games, functioning as a resource and guide, and, above all, an inivitation and inspiration to play. There are eight kinds of games represented. When you mouse over each category, like "Chasing Games," it gives you an example, "Like It." When you select a game, you are taken to a page of rules, often illustrated with actual photographs. There's a link on the upper right of each game description that reads "Other Ways to Play." This takes you to related games, like "Statues Tig," Zombie Madness," "Question It" - each game selected at random from the collection of games in that category. Then there's a link to "Other Chasing Games," which takes you to a hyperlinked list of more games to play. Then there's a link to Facts about the game, leading you to a page of game history and, often, a video of it being played.

For me, the Playground Fun site is a completion of a work I began more than 35 years ago. Though I had nothing to do with its creation, it feels like a personal accomplishment - fulfilling a need I saw more than 35 years ago, with a depth and integrity I couldn't have imagined possible.

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Adult Playgrounds

I found this half-baked idea for an "Adult Play Yard" posted in the appropriately inimitable Half Bakery by someone called "Senatorjam:"
"Similar to the ones at McDonalds, when you feel you need an escape, [i seem to need to escape frequently] you pop into this play yard, they give you a freshly laundered t-shirt and shorts, and you spend the next 15 minutes or so, swinging, sliding, playing in the ball pit, jumping on the bouncy castle, or just sitting and sucking on your thumb...."
First of all, despite some of the comments (nudge, nudge, wink, wink), I find it remarkably refreshing to learn that someone thinks of adult play in such comparatively innocent terms. Though all play is sensual, adult play does not need to imply sex play. Adult play, as depicted by Senatorjam, can be innocent and profoundly fulfilling. By using the term "adult play" and "adult playground" as a gateway to pornography, we do ourselves a deep disservice. As adults, we need to play with each other, lovingly, freely, innocently. Instead, by implication and connotation, we deny ourselves this experience, systemically.

An adult playrgound. A place for us to play together, with all the abandon and artistry we, as adults, are heir to. Giant swings and endless slides. A consummation devoutly to be wished.

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Playground Football

It's called "Playground Football," though we Statesiders would probably call it "Playground Soccer." We might also find it a bit, shall we say, arcane in its use of UK-specific playground language, and rather cheekily written, tongue-in-wise. But it is nevertheless something of a classic, and gives us an insight into the spirit of Junkyard Sports in its native manifestation.

"The object," writes Christopher Brookmyre, "is to force the ball between two large, unkempt piles of jackets, in lieu of goalposts. These piles may grow or shrink throughout the match, depending on the number of participants and the prevailing weather. As the number of players increases, so shall the piles. Each jacket added to the pile by a new addition to a side should be placed on the inside, nearest the goalkeeper, thus reducing the target area. It is also important that the sleeve of one of the jackets should jut out across the goalmouth, as it will often be claimed that the ball went 'over the post' and it can henceforth be asserted that the outstretched sleeve denotes the innermost part of the pile and thus the inside of the post. The on-going reduction of the size of the goal is the responsibility of any respectable defence and should be undertaken conscientiously with resourcefulness and imagination."

Mr. Brookmyre goes on, and on. "There are no pitch markings," he explains, a "pitch" being what we might call a "field" or "play area." "Instead," he continues, "physical objects denote the boundaries, ranging from the most common - walls and buildings - to roads or burns. Corners and throw-ins are redundant where bylines or touchlines are denoted by a two-storey building or a six-foot granite wall. Instead, a scrum should be instigated to decide possession. This should begin with the ball trapped between the brickwork and two opposing players, and should escalate to include as many team members as can get there before the now egg-shaped ball finally emerges, drunkenly and often with a dismembered foot and shin attached. At this point, goalkeepers should look out for the player who takes possession of the escaped ball and begins bearing down on goal, as most of those involved in the scrum will be unaware that the ball is no longer amidst their feet. The goalkeeper should also try not to be distracted by the inevitable fighting that has by this point broken out."

This wonderful little piece reminds us of the inventiveness, as well as the peculiar "rough-and-tumble" delights of playground play, at least as it was, and might still be played, on grounds other than those in the US Schools. For us, it is a perhaps an especially nostalgic reminder, for we have "progressively" outlawed both the tumble and the rough from our playgrounds, and, in the name of a national obsession called "No Child Left Behind," are industriously exploring ways of eliminating both the play and the grounds.

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Where have all the players gone

Dr. Olga Jarrett, president of The Association for the Study of Play, has a lot of important things to say about the state of child's play. You'll find them summarized in this article. In the mean time, let me give you a sample:
Many of the schools in at least 10 states have abolished recess, causing children to spend many six hour days without exercise or down time. Even kindergarten is affected. A recent survey of Georgia schools suggests that 25% of the kindergarten children do not get daily recess. They are indoors all day. Children without recess miss an opportunity to chase each other, make up their own games, decide what is fair and who is “it” and hone their physical skills and imagination on playground equipment. The pressure to increase test scores has caused many school systems to opt for "uninterrupted instructional time."


And another:
Children whose parents have the time and money to involve them in lessons, organizations, and sports often lead very structured lives, as they spend after school hours, Saturdays, and summers in one program after another. They don’t have much time for free play. On the other hand, latchkey children generally don’t have much opportunity to play either. They are expected to stay at home and not have friends over to play.


It is to provoke thought. And hopefully, action. Thank you, Dr. Jarrett.

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Super Mario in the Playground

For me, one of the biggest rewards of belonging to The Association for the Study of Play is the discovery of stories like the following, from John Darwin Dorst, author of The Written Suburb: "In this game, he says, "the participants devoted much recess time to moving around the playground and acting out the sort of encounters and events that characterize the video game Super Mario Brothers, then the most popular electronic game among these boys. In their roving play they encountered and surmounted obstacles and barriers, fought a variety of dangerous creatures, acquired 'artifacts' that gave them enhanced powers, entered 'Warp Zones' that allowed them special movement and traversed boundaries from one imagined world to another. Though the ultimate object of the actual Nintendo game is to rescue a princess, the playground game was not particularly goal oriented. The point seems to have been the imaginative, improvisatory elaboration of the videogame structure itself. And that means in their play the boys included such things as putting themselves 'On Pause,' freezing the action as one can do with a button on the electronic control. This allowed for trips to the bathroom and other diversions. Also, they would devise theme melodies for the various 'worlds' they created, humming the appropriate tune as they moved about the imagined space of 'Ice World,' for instance."

Brian Sutton-Smith alerted me to this story. He is a founding member of TASP, long-time friend and mentor, and author of the oft-quoted: "The opposite of play is not work. It is depression."

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message to a PE teacher re. Junkyard Sports

Almost regardless of what other developmental purposes playing a sport might have, if children experience playing sports as fun, those objectives all become so much easier to reach, so much more joyfully.

Fewer and fewer school children seem to have actually experienced anything close to playing sports for the fun of it.

When we were their age, we knew how to play for fun. We'd have these neighborhood pick-up games that anybody who wanted to could play. And we'd play them maybe on the sidewalk, or in the street, or on some currently vacant lawn. And if we didn't have a ball or bat or whatever, we'd make them out of whatever we had with us or could find.

We'd play games like stickball, wallball, stoopball and boxball – using unofficial equipment to play in unofficial spaces; changing the rules if we had to so it could be played by anyone who wants to; for the fun of it. In the experience of playing improvisational, homemade, environmentally sensitive sports, even winning isn't as important as fun.

These games are the foundation for a new sports event, designed specifically to restore the sense of fun to sports. It's called "Junkyard Sports," as comprehensively described in a book of the same name. Like the TV show "Junkyard Wars" (except for the "war" part) Junkyard Sports events are played in phases. During the first phase two or more teams each create a new Junkyard Sport – one that everyone has fun playing, and that takes full advantage of where it is played and what there is to play with. The second phase begins when everyone plays everyone else's sport.

And therein lies the event: fun, physical, collaborative, creative, competitive, ecologically sensitive, and just about infinitely extensible. It's an event that brings fun back into sports, that challenges kids almost at every level: intellectually, physically, socially. An event that you can hold every week, for every class or for several classes at the same time, that the kids can more or less run themselves, for the whole community, even.

Getting to lead a Junkyard Sports event is almost the opposite of what you do and how you are when you hold drill and practice sessions. You're less a gym teacher and more a Junkmaster. You find yourself gathering collections of recycled material (junk), scouting unexpected locations for the event to be held in. During the event, you're doing more cheering than what you might call "teaching" or leading" – even though you are constantly doing both.

As Junkmaster, you set the challenge. The collection of junk can have tremendous impact on the kinds of games the kids invent. The more junk, the more difficult it is to use it all. The less obviously appropriate the junk (what if nothing looks like a ball or bat or racquet or stick?) the more creativity required. The place that you select for the event has similarly powerful impact on the challenge. Playing in a hallway requires a different set of strategies and skills than playing in a gym or a playground or parking lot or sidewalk or swimming pool.

Though there are many possible solutions, the problem posed by the Junkmaster is as much of an intellectual exercise as it is physical and social. It's a kind of puzzle, and solving it, even if you never actually get to play the game you create, is fun in and of itself.

For example, how would you play soccer if you had the whole playground, including the swings, basketball court, and play structure to play in? And all you had to play with is: four beach balls, two six-inch balloons of different colors, two trash cans? Plus whatever you might find laying out in the playground? And 14 seven-year-olds, two of whom are in wheelchairs?

Here's one possible solution.

Let's call it: "Beach Ball Balloon Trash Basket Playground Soccer." Divide into teams. Each team gets a different color balloon. Balloons are placed in the middle of the play structure.

Each team sets up its goal area somewhere in the playground. The goal area is a circle, about 5 feet in diameter.

Each team selects one player to be Canner. The Canner is like a Soccer goalie, except not at all. Using the trash can, the Canner attempts to capture, hold and carry his team's balloon.

The only players who can touch a balloon are in wheelchairs. If the Canner is in a wheelchair, the Canner can also touch a balloon directly. As long as the trashcan is empty, the Canner cannot leave that area. Beach balls can only be kicked or butted. Balloons can only be hit by beach balls. And there should be no physical contact between players. The winning team is the first team whose Canner has planted that team's balloon in an opposing team's goal area.

Beach Ball Balloon Trash Basket Playground Soccer (BBBTBPS) is clearly only one of many possible soccer-like games we could create with the specified collection of materials, players and environments. We could even use the very same to make a basketball game. After all, there is a basketball court in the playground. And getting a balloon into a real basketball basket could take a lot of teamwork. Especially if there were any wind. Whereas getting a beach ball into a basketball hoop is simply impossible. Or is it?

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Toys in the Playground

Sacred son and Ph.D. candidate Elyon writes: "I was wondering if you have blogged about toys in the playground. One of my neighbors left a bunch of toys in the playground a number of months ago. Most are still there. Some toys have disappeared (or broken?), and some new ones have appeared. It's sort of an unspoken neighborhood co-op. I have heard of at least one other playground where this has happened. Do you know of this behavior?"

I answer: "Actually, no." Elyon is living in Holland in something like a row house in a neighborhood of row house neighborhoods. Each of these neighborhoodlets surrounds a parklet. And each parklet includes a playgroundlet. So the kids who live there rightly regard the playground as theirs - shared, perhaps, but also protected and, to a very real degree, private. So when they leave their toys they have good reason to believe that they will find them again when they come back to play again. My guess is that we'd find similar behavior in any semi-closed community.

But it does remind me of Jay Beckwith's remarkable Finger Parks. Jay's Finger Parks are playground installations, meant for the more public playgrounds that are built by civic parks commissions. Though kids should not be encouraged to leave their toys behind when they're finished playing, Finger Parks are a brilliant acknowledgment of how kids use toys as vehicles for building community

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Rethinking the Playground

The Skillman Center for Children has a clear and singular mission: to enhance the economic and social well being of urban children and their families. After reading their Spring Newsletter, devoted to "Childhood Obesity and Play," I began to think that maybe it should be my mission too, this enhancement of the economic and social well being of urban children and their families. In fact, I went so far as to thinking that maybe it should be everyone's clear and single mission. Everyone's.

Though the 24-page Newsletter is loaded with frighteningly informed statistics and practical solutions, the section (beginning on page 10) really did it for me. It took the form of an article called "Moving from Monkey Bars to Mudpies: Rethinking the Playground." Which is an introduction to the concept of "Adventure Playgrounds." The author explains: "I learned about this kind of playground by accident through our neighborhood?s children?s community garden. The adults and older teens were intent on having a beautiful and perfect final product of a learning garden. But the kids had a different idea. They enjoyed constantly changing it. One day there would be a pond where the day before there was a planned flower bed. The garden was never neat and tidy. It looked like a giant mess of flowers, vegetables, fruit and piles of dirt. When we would get a load of dirt, the pile became things. At one point a pile had become a burial ground for a bee. The kids came up with the idea to have a funeral for 'brother bee,' and imitated their parents at funerals. They went around and all said things they would miss about the bee and 'fake cried.'"

We all have a lot of "fake crying" to do about some of the too real events of our days. I hope such playgrounds will have a place for all of us.

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FingerParks

"A FingerPark is a place where kids can bring their toys and imagination."

FingerParks are large, painted concrete toy tables. Large and nearly indestructible, they invite sharing and communication. There's a Water Finger Park for bath tub toys and a FingerPark for toy cars and even a Finger Park for finger skateboarders.

In most playgrounds, kids are invited, but not their toys. I'm sure there are good, adult reasons for this: concerns about loss and damage, and maybe worries about theft and envy and things to fight over, and maybe because no playground facility in its right mind wants to have to deal with toy storage and issues of equitable distribution. On the other hand, toys are so much a part of a child's life that excluding toys from public play spaces is, in a very real way, excluding part of the child.

Toys are wonderfully reliable vehicles for imagination and socialization. And as long as kids have toys, FingerParks, where they can play together with each other and each other's toys, give them a much-needed place where they can grow and develop their community.

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Play for All

I have always been fascinated, and moved, by play environments that allow people of all ages and abilities to play together. Creating such an environment is a profound challenge with an even more profound pay-off. Playing together, our differences melt away. Our "specialness" becomes shared, so that we are all special, in a special place, doing special things, having an especially special amount of fun together, with each other.

There's a book, called "Nothing About Us Without Us." The complete text is available online, for free. Written by David Werner, it a truly practical, intelligently written, do-it-yourself guide for building adaptive playgrounds. It's subtitle: "Developing Innovative Technologies For, By and With Disabled Persons." It's the "For, By and With" part that captures the spirit, and true innovation of this powerful resource.

As he so clearly states in his introduction: "In this approach, the disabled person (and/or family members) often takes the lead, working as a partner and equal with service providers, technicians, or local crafts-persons. With this sort of partnership approach, results tend to be more enabling than when assistive equipment is unilaterally prescribed or designed."

Even if you know no disabled people, and rarely visit a playground, you will find this book moving and inspiring evidence of the sheer healing power of fun.

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Planet Earth Playscapes

This is an image from the Soundscape Project, one of an inspiring collection of Planet Earth Playscapes from Rusty Keeper. I decided to feature this particular play element because it is so often overlooked in the design of children's play environments. The designers explain:

We use sound in 3 general ways:

1) As an ambient “backdrop” to the play yard, with sounds creating aural moods with wind chimes, and listening dishes to focus your attention.

2) Sound as a “by product” of play with bells, chimes and rattles hidden in trees, shrubs, structures and tires where the children already play.

3) Sound as the “goal” of play. For this, various sound sculptures were installed including jumbo standing chimes, a huge thunder drum children can pound on with softball mallets, and a large wooden marimba and tongue drums.


This is another of Keeler's playscape designs. Designed for infant and toddlers:

Details of the play environment include a small bubbling water feature, "secret" paths between tall edible plants, carved wooden sculptures, a "mini orchard" with dwarf apple trees, gentle grassy hills, and raised planters full of flowers, vegetables and herbs.

Children can drive tricycles through a large tunnel, dig in a giant sand area, and race down slides embedded in the side of a hill.

Also in the design are various sound elements including large, tuned chimes played with mallets, a booming "Thunder Drum" for children to pound on, and a variety of twinkling windchimes hung in trees.


It is exemplary of a clearly r/evolutionary trend in playground design, one that brings with it a sense of fun and beauty, of respect for life and play, of opportunities for imagination and exploration, physical and sensual involvement, light and delight.

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