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Taking back the playground


Traditional swings and slides may be safe, but they rob kids of chances to be creative, study finds that play spaces should be designed for children, not adults, might seem obvious.

But a five-year study tracking the habits of toddlers and preschoolers in playgrounds across Vancouver suggests an obsession with safety has forced kids into safe but sterile and uninspiring outdoor spaces that might satisfy adult anxieties and needs, but shortchange children's development.

Instead of traditional swings and slides, the kids want places where they can hide, play with dirt and be creative.

Susan Herrington, a professor in the University of B.C.'s School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, who led the study, said modern, trendy-looking playspaces may be safe and the equipment is sturdy, but they leave nothing for childish imaginations.

Between 2003 and 2008, she and her researchers studied 16 outdoor play centres, videotaping children aged two to five.

They found that 87 per cent of the time the conventional equipment -- monkey bars, swings, slides and climbing structures -- remained empty. Even when the children played on or around the equipment, they used it for its intended purpose, like going down the slide, only three per cent of the time, according to the study.


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