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Coming Together

Protect P by Jay Beckwith

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

ANTHROPOLOGISTS who study intact indigenous peoples find that they generally do not have a word for play. Children in these communities just do what kids have always done, naturally and without much “parenting.” The French philosopher Rousseau largely formed our modern idea of play as a distinct behavior in the mid1700s. He urged that children be given freedom to enjoy sunlight, exercise, and play and recognized that there are definite periods of development in a child’s life. This notion of play became more universal as society was increasingly industrialized to the extent that places to play were scarce, which in turn led to the creation of playgrounds. These came about as a result of motorized vehicles commandeering the roads making it, in the eyes of the community, unsafe to play in the street. Play in

the street was primarily ball and running games, hopscotch, jump rope, and the like. Following Rousseau’s romanticized notion of play, these new playgrounds added “exercise” equipment such as monkey bars and swings. By the end of the 19th century, slides and merry-go-rounds had been added completing what we now view as the traditional playground. The point of this brief history lesson is to highlight that “play” as we now envision it is a direct product of society. What society gains from playgrounds is to create a place where play is sanctioned, where it’s supposed to happen, and by inference, this makes other places “not OK to play here.” When society creates playgrounds as the place where play is allowed children, society can now send kids off to school where they are expected


to do their school “work” and then, if they are lucky, be sent outside to burn off energy, so they come back in, sit still, and work some more. We are just now coming to understand that this separation between play and work, be it a job or studies, is not such a great idea. These days it seems that there is a study every week that demonstrates the push for academics before children turn eight years old has measurable negative consequences on a child’s later performance at school, in their jobs, and in their personal lives. And it’s not just children that need to play. The business magazines are rife with stories about creative people and enterprises that welcome playfulness at work. Playfulness is now understood to be the wellspring of creativity, and creativity means big bucks.

Playgrounds Build Community, Winter 2015  

How do play and playgrounds build community? Join us as we explore many ways of engaging the community by creating playgrounds and playspace...

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