Editorial: Playgrounds should be fun for fun's sake

Tristan Donovan
Tuesday, September 25, 2007

When put against protecting children from abuse or making sure they attain the school grades they need to have a decent future as an adult, getting them to have fun can seem a side issue.

Officially the government wants every child to have fun. Every Child Matters' enjoy and achieve outcome should make play a priority for children's services. But too often enjoy loses out to making every child achieve.

Without fun, life seems a pretty bleak prospect. Just over a week ago we published a quote from Sue Bohanna, secretary of the North Wales Brass Band (CYP Now, 12-18 September). The band is finding children rarely have time to practice since, as she put it: "Do these poor kids ever have a time at home when they're not being dragged somewhere?"

Yet our nation seems determined that every child must be using every spare moment to learn more. Even play itself is now talked about in terms of the cognitive, physical and social advantages children can get from it. It may be understandable that play, in order to avoid being sidelined in the fight for funding, now promotes itself as a way of delivering goals on health and social skills but should the idea of children simply having fun, really carry so little weight?

As Playlink's new study (see p4) reports, too many of our playgrounds are plain boring. It seems the idea of creating fun and exciting areas that put children and young people first has been sacrificed in favour of creating playgrounds that will keep the lawyers at bay. But lawyers are only one part of the problem. Increasingly restrictive guidance has also played its part in turning playgrounds into places of tedium.

Of course, this isn't a new phenomenon. I remember as a child the local playground being a hazard-strewn collection of metal slides and monkey bars with countless opportunities for banging your head or grazing your knees. Unsafe, possibly, but probably not as dangerous as playing football in the road, which is what my friends and I did after the council transformed it into a safety first, fun second playground.

Playlink's report underlines how legal fears, over regulation and a risk-adverse culture are draining the fun out of playgrounds. But fun shouldn't have to be justified on the back of medical and personal development opportunities. Fun for fun's sake is a perfectly valid reason to build decent playgrounds - the rest is a bonus.

- Tristan Donovan, news editor, Children & Young People Now.

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