Long ago, I read an article about playgrounds that noted how many people talk of their happiest childhood experiences as playing in wild places where there were logs, scraps of wood, planks, bricks, ropes, and other unstructured areas. These unstructured places are where fantasy, imagination, and spontaneity are given free rein to flourish. When I came across such carefully constructed “unstructured” playgrounds, I thought would be worth sharing. In this blog I feature two such playgrounds.
One of these playgrounds was in Bergen, Norway. the other at the King’s garden in Copenhagen, Denmark (called Kongens Have). If you read Ba Luvmour’s blog on “Thoughts on Norway,” you’ll discover that Norway both values and promotes children’s creativity and initiative. The playgrounds I saw and photographed are just one example of creatively constructing an environment where children can explore cooperation and learn social skills during play.
The Importance of Play
An essential component of play is its frivolity. Play builds complex, skilled, socially adept, and cognitively flexible brains. During play, children learn active involvement in decision-making and self-regulation as they negotiate the game with peers. Play allows children to create and explore a world they can later master and so conquer their fears. Unstructured play helps children develop new competencies and resiliency that they need to face future challenges. Moreover, environments that promote imaginative play develop the thinking areas of the brain, which leads to greater adaptability.
King’s Garden Playground
At this lovely spot, there are two creatively sculptured wooden dragons for children to climb on, ride, or play with (see photos). Included in this circular fairy-tale world is a golden egg at the center with a crack that suggests untold mystery—well suited for imaginative play. In addition, there are four small pavilions in the four directions at the end of nondescript wooden alleys to explore.
This adventure playground is situated in a most beautiful Renaissance park that was laid out in the early 1600s when the Rosenborg Castle was built for King Christian IV. The playground was added more recently and opened in 1998. In this garden, children encounter wood bridges, and lots of standing wood logs, stumps, and poles ripe for inventive play.
Mt. Fløyen Playground
The second playground was at the top of Mt. Fløyen (above). We took the Fløibanen cable car to the top; the playground is situated in the forest. Here there was an open area of carved logs with notches, ladders, stumps, and ramps to climb over and under. This simple area, designed by artist Ketil Dybvik, is filled with open opportunity for free play and gives the children an environment where their imagination can take them anywhere.
We do not stop playing because we grow old…We grow old because we stop playing.
George Bernard Shaw
The Power of Relationship in Child’s Play
When a child is allowed to lead the play and the adults follow along, the child feels valued and powerful. The child is then free to fully engage the world. When the adult leads the play, the child’s natural flow is interrupted and tensions between adult and child can arise. When children are in the company of someone who genuinely cares about nurturing their creative play, they are free to become imaginative and resilient. As Ba stated in his blog, the future belongs to those who master relationship—and, I might add, engaging a child in play is a great place to practice. One thing that Norwegians seem to recognize is that time in open play leads to well-balanced children—and well-balanced children are the foundation of any healthy society.
Photos credit: Flickr.com/creative commons
©2012 Josette Luvmour, PhD. All rights reserved.
Posted on October 10, 2012 by Josette Luvmour, PhD
Josette Luvmour, PhD is a developmentalist, consultant, educator who specializes in child development, adult development, and sustainable family relationships. She serves in the non-profit sector as Director of Family and Professional Development at Summa Institute, a nonprofit organization that provides Natural Learning Relationships™ programs to students, families, and professionals (Opening 2013). In addition to her 26-year consulting practice at Luvmour Consulting, LLC, she is author of five books and numerous journal articles and chapters that focus on building positive relationships with children.
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