The Importance of Play

Curriculum Leadership Journal
Deidre Thian

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. It’s a well-known proverb. The wisdom underpinning the proverb, that if Jack works all the time he will be both boring and bored, seems forgotten in some schools in the United States.

For other schools, the a key question – what should the playground that Jack uses at school be like? Research would suggest that ‘good’ school playgrounds, that is grounds that support physical, social, emotional and cognitive development, have three common characteristics. They support developmentally-appropriate activities for the physical, social, emotional and cognitive developmental range of the children that use the space – whether they are young children or older young adults. They exhibit diversity in the types of spaces provided and the range of activities supported. And, perhaps the most critical feature, the types of spaces provided and activities supported in school grounds are interesting to the user. If a type of space or equipment is not liked by the children – irrespective of whether it has been well-designed – it will not be used.

Some examples of some places/programs getting it right are in the United Kingdom, through advocacy and research by such organizations as Learning through Landscapes, which funded Titman’s seminal research on the effect of the physical environment of school grounds on children’s behavior and attitudes, and by government and private support being provided to schools to improve school grounds (eg Growing Schools Program). Similar initiatives are also occurring in parts of Canada and the United States (eg Boston Schoolyard Funders Collaborative, Seattle’s Grey to Green Program, and Peaceful Playgrounds Program).

For more information on playground design.....