Except from November 2012 Recreation Management Article “Finding the Way to Play: Trends on the Playground”
Lacking on many playgrounds are the spaces and materials needed for make-believe, including loose parts, said Vicki L. Stoecklin, director of education and child development, White Hutchinson Leisure & Learning Group, Kansas City, MO. “For years we have tended to separate the indoor environment from outdoor environment: When kids are inside they work on cognitive and emotional skills, but we have this paradigm that when they go outside all they do is gross motor,” she said. “Inside, they have all these tools for rich imaginative play-plastic fruits, puzzle pieces, play props-but not outside. We need to look at children more holistically.”
A playground should engage children’s sense of inquiry, stimulate their imaginations, invite exploration and support their developing competencies over time, Stoecklin said. Defined areas can support specific activities, such as construction, art or music, with adjacent storage for loose parts or props. A music area, for example, might feature pie and muffin tins attached to a fence so kids can bang them with sticks. A construction area could have lumber and tools like wheelbarrows, as well as smaller items like pinecones and seedpods.
Besides wide-open spaces that promote physical games, such as tag, playgrounds should have intimate spaces such a cubbies, foxholes and tunnels to promote imaginative play, enabling solitary or small groups of kids to transport themselves anywhere from a bank to a bunker.
“Children engaging in solitary play does not necessarily mean they feel left out or insecure,” said Stoecklin, adding that classroom sizes are bigger and some kids need more time alone than others.