Earlier this month Play England published research showing that at least 21 adventure playgrounds have been lost across England – roughly 15% of the total – in the last five years. Many more have suffered severe cuts in funding. Adventure play and adventure playgrounds provide stimulating experiences for children and families above and beyond what is offered by traditional ‘static’ playgrounds, not least the chance to interact with nature, something widely recognised as being good for mental wellbeing. Once again the short-term need to save money is trumping important long-term, child-focused priorities. Life-Based Learning recognises the importance of children safely enjoying and learning through play – especially outdoors. As well as its physical and mental health benefits, outdoor play is crucial for helping children to learn to assess and manage risk.
Play England’s research is cited on their website in a document called Play England Report into Adventure Playgrounds in England. It was also highlighted in a recent Guardian article. Surprisingly, there doesn’t appear to be a comprehensive list of adventure playgrounds, but the report says that researchers managed to identify (including by googling the term ‘adventure playground’!) 126 sites that matched the description of staffed outdoor play, free for children to attend. This is down from 147 in 2017. Many more have lost direct council funding or have severely reduced their hours or staffing levels.
The Guardian article features the Grove adventure playground in Brixton. It refers to adventure play as “an energetic philosophy born in the years that followed the Second World War and inspired by activists who saw how happily children played on bomb sites.” The article also highlights the situation in Crawley, East Sussex, where all four of the town’s adventure playgrounds have been closed.
Adventure playgrounds give children space to play, something that is not available to many who live in flats or homes with little or no outside space. Grove play lead Ashlee Aderele is quoted as saying: “We connect children here with nature but they don’t even notice – it’s just here in every corner – the fire, the mud, the wood – they are part of it without noticing because they are playing.”
The loss of 21 adventure playgrounds is 15% of provision, a significant and worrying trend away from the hope that the Blair government generated with its generous play funding in the early 21st century.Anita Grant, the head of Play England, quoted in the Guardian
These just can’t be compared to ‘fixed’ playgrounds in parks; they are community spaces where thoughtful staff help children engage with nature and play with other children of different ages – an experience we are losing in wider society.
Play England’s vision is to ensure that:
Life-Based Learning (LBL) emphasises the importance of daily physical activity, of playing sports and games, and of outdoor play and outdoor learning more generally.
In October 2021 we featured another Guardian article focusing on how Germany is leading the way in an approach to playground design that has moved away from a focus on total safety. Instead, obstacles, challenges and an element of risk are deliberate features of the design. Apart from the need for children to learn risk assessment and risk management, the thinking is that, by heightening children’s awareness of the need to be careful, it actually makes an accident less likely to happen in the first place.
In April 2021 we highlighted the work of the UK charity Learning through Landscapes, which is dedicated to improving our connection with nature by spending time outdoors. Sir David Attenborough is a patron. On their website they outline their vision:
…a society where the benefits of regular time outdoors are valued and appreciated, and outdoor learning, play and connection with nature is recognised as a fundamental part of education, at every stage, for every child and young person.from the Learning through Landscapes website
Image at the head of this article from the LinkedIn page of Play England.