I’ve just run across a wonderful collection of images of the “left behinds” of children’s play at http://preciouschildhood.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/play-detective.html
I’ve always found these traces very poignant and sometimes very sad. That is particularly the case when I visit schools. I make it a rule to walk all around the campus to find out where the children have been playing. There is always some tiny corner, some hidden spot, where the kids scratch out a meager opportunity to have the kind of intimacy that comes from such true play. I’ve devoted my life to making great play apparatus that has some value for kids and I’m OK with that legacy. But if I had been really true to my heart I would have tried to find a way to expand these tiny play oasis wherever there are children.
When I was first doing play sculptures in schools around San Francisco, Robin Moore was doing the Washington Environmental Yard across the Bay in Berkeley. Robin, and the principal Herb Wong, created a wonderland out of the former asphalt desert that has been a model every since. Robin had a better sense of what was needed and has devoted his career to promoting the concept. His partners at MIG have done wonderful work and I could not have done better than he and Susan Goltsman have, and yet with all of their skill and dedication humanizing the environments in which our society “houses” children is still not a mainstream idea. Heck its not even on the radar.
I wonder if the lack of opportunity for this sort of play is really based on our society’s fear of intimacy. Our culture has so confused intimacy with sex that we must avoid any opportunity for children to have access to places that are “secret”. Adults supervising children are only comfortable when they can see every child at all times. I don’t disagree with this requirement, but as a designer I know there are many ways to provide a sense of enclosure without sacrificing good supervision. It is too bad that we don’t value the deep connectedness that can be found through play sufficiently to devote time and effort to its protection.
My hope is that, with the help of social media, enough information and resources will be gathered together to support more playful places for kids.