Look – Don’t Play

Something has gone terribly awry in Canada’s Ocean Playground. This September, many of the kids entering school for the first time in Nova Scotia will apparently be persona non grata on school playgrounds.

This sorry state of affairs is an unintended result of s recent policy shift. A combined safety standards and insurance SNAFU was discovered last fall. That’s the first time that kids having their fourth birthday on or before December 31 were able to start school as part a new provincial pre-primary program.

The pre-primary cohort is weighted to three and four-year-olds. That’s the nub of the problem. Off the shelf playground equipment installed in numerous schoolyards is labeled and recommended for use by kids in the five to twelve-year-old age range.

The School Insurance Program (SIP) has not recommended the use of this equipment for kids under the age of five. The institutional response from the provincial department responsible for education and from individual school districts upholds the SIP recommendation while emphasizing that SIP covers all primary school students regardless of age.

And so it goes…. none of the kids starting out in the pre-primary program will be able to play on school sanctioned playground equipment until they are in primary unless the equipment is deemed to be age appropriate.

Parents are not impressed with what is perceived as a rigid example of risk aversion as shared by PlayGroundology FB friend, Nicole Wulff:

…this just happened at our elementary school. The special ed 3-5 yo are no longer allowed on the kindergarten playground…the kids who need the most exposure to opps to improve fine and gross motor…..

 

Let’s remember that these school playgrounds are open to the public after hours and kids can play on the equipment as they choose regardless of age. This post limits itself to commenting on the play structures. It does not touch on the debate linked to early school enrollment.

There is a general recognition in all of this that playgrounds only represent one facet of engaging kids in play. Parents, educators as well as school and government officials all agree about the value and importance of play. In an ironic twist, the pre-primary program is heavily weighted to play-based learning.

 

This presents a great opportunity to introduce other forms of play into the equation. A favourite of mine that continues to gain steam around the world is ‘loose parts play’. It’s a great fit for pre-primary. I have led loose parts play events with kids ranging in age from three to twelve-years-old. It’s always been a great success. Many of the after school Excel programs throughout Halifax adopted loose parts play following a presentation on risk and play by the UK’s Tim Gill three years ago.

Resources on loose parts here and its impacts in an Australian public school setting here.

Loose Parts Play – Halifax Commons, 2017 – Read more here

This ‘look – don’t play’ SNAFU has been covered by local media including CBC, Global, CTV, The Star – Halifax and Halifax Today. It’s great seeing resources allocated to these kind of stories.

Across the country, developments led by designers, builders, parents, municipal governments, academics and recreation leaders are seeing a shift away from the old risk averse models of play to a context where risk and resilience are perceived as key elements in the renaissance of independent, outdoor play.

As the pre-primary program undergoes a major expansion in Nova Scotia this fall, let’s just make sure our smalls get plenty of play opportunities in the school environment. Loose parts play is doable from a budget, training and implementation perspective. What an opportunity…

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