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20.12.2013 - Ausgabe: 6/2013

Why is space for play so important?

by Dr. Chloé Zirnstein


It is through play that children experience and discover the world around them. Children observe adults and their activities and as a consequence wish to imitate them. By means of role playing, games involving simulated construction and work activities, children develop motor and communication abilities and social skills. Children's games are to a large extent determined by the behavior of the grown-up persons they most closely relate to.
So that their imagination and need for exercise can be given free rein, children need space for play. Sadly, free areas that can be explored during play are often lacking in the modern urban environment and roads are now too dangerous to represent potential playgrounds. It has thus become even more essential to supply the necessary recreational and free spaces in the form of innovative playgrounds that can be made publicly accessible. When it comes to the design of sustainable playgrounds, it is expedient to employ a concept that will appeal to all age groups.

Children's need to jump, hop, climb, dig, to put their own sense of balance and dexterity to the test hones through play key physical abilities and can thus contribute significantly towards appropriate development in childhood. Attractive playground equipment is readily accepted by children and not only encourages them to indulge in role play and fires their imagination, but helps bring them together and communicate with each other.

Playing with the elements earth and water is a particular enjoyment for larger and smaller children. The opportunity to feel dry sand, moist mud, clear water and to combine these with each other is fun and inspires inventiveness. Water can be dammed, it flows and drips; sand can be made into shapes and patted; you can dig into it and use it to make walls. In almost no other situation is it commonplace to see children so deeply engrossed in play as when water is available; the world seems to stop for them and they forget everything else. It is also apparent that play features with water strongly encourage children to interact with each other. They come together in the same way as when they role-play in a play house. They spontaneously develop the abilities to share and negotiate, learn to deal with each other and experience success as a team.

The playground equipment manufacturer Richter Spielgeräte GmbH, which is based in the Chiemgau region of Bavaria, has been focussing for the past 40 years on the question of what form of challenges are appropriate for and are accepted by children and youngsters and how to ensure that these promote their sensory skills, spatial awareness and selfawareness. They recognise that the provision of space for play as sites that promote welfare and health is a social necessity. While children need to be able to play in order to develop their personalities, young people and even adults should be encouraged to use play for pleasure and relaxation. Environments that encourage encounters of this nature not only make a significant contribution to cross-generational communication but provide individuals with the opportunity to indulge their imagination, to enjoy physical and sensory experiences.

In addition to the standard equipment, such as swings, slides and water, climbing and rotating elements play a major role here. For example, it is common to see adolescents using the 'roundabouts' on playgrounds ostensibly designed for younger children and thus using this as an opportunity to escape from the everyday world, to exercise and experience something new. Rotation as an activity appeals to the self-perception, promotes concentration and spatial awareness and boosts self-reliance. It motivates, removes inhibitions and trains users to assess risk without placing them in danger; the youngsters using a roundabout themselves determine the speed of rotation and thus learn through play in a memorable fashion the relationship between cause and effect.

Good playgrounds always have a selection of equipment that complements the natural surroundings, can act as meeting places for young people and offer the opportunity to exercise and take risks.

If a playground is appropriately designed, it can contribute to enhancing the lifestyle of all members of the family by providing an outlet for the otherwise missing opportunity of engaging in the freedom of play and also by offering a necessary alternative to the stresses of modern life. It should not be forgotten that many children and youngsters who live in large conurbations do not even have a room to themselves, live in cramped conditions, bear many responsibilities, are overtaxed at school and have all too few leisure moments in which they can take physical exercise. Natural free spaces that can be used by these age groups are disappearing rapidly.

Innovative educational concepts look with increasing frequency for solutions to this problem and try to incorporate in the school curriculum 'time-outs' from lessons so that pupils can take physical exercise and play. It has been demonstrated that this results in improved learning performance and helps children and adolescents cope better with conflict situations and frustration; this is because situations always arise when a group plays together in which the individuals are forced to compete and compare their skills. Perception, self-evaluation and the sense of identity are nurtured.

The opportunity to explore a play space not only has an appeal for children and young people, but also for adults. We need to keep the child within us happy and healthy into our old age because it is this child that gives us the inner flexibility we need to face up to the numerous challenges that we encounter and need to master over a lifetime.

Even senior citizens need places in which they can be creative and it is particularly heart-warming to observe that multigenerational togetherness does actually take place. This can be particularly readily achieved with equipment such as the 'pattern board', 'tuning stone' and rotating disk, playground products that have not been developed for a particular age group and which can be used and enjoyed by young and old alike.
If our future cities are to be sustainable, they will need playgrounds that are designed not just for children, but also represent spaces in which adolescents and adults can exercise and relax, play and enjoy themselves. In the case of the youngest children, these facilities have a positive influence on their psychological and physical development; for the elderly, they can be an environment in which they can grow old with dignity – for every individual needs the space in which to allow their inner
being the chance to take its own course.

Images: Richter Spielgeräte

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