Welcome to the Kiwi Play Safe project. This post explains what I’m trying to achieve.
New Zealand’s towns and cities are blessed with an abundance of playgrounds, which give our children ample opportunity to run around outside and enjoy themselves. And the vast majority of playgrounds that I’ve visited with my three year old twins are very well designed, with safe and exciting play equipment that encourages children to climb, balance, test themselves physically, and have fun. In other words, this project has nothing to do with the quality of the New Zealand’s playgrounds themselves: they are fantastic.
However, I have a problem with many of the places in which our playgrounds are located, and repeated conversations with other parents, both online and in person, have made me realise that I’m not alone in my concerns. A lot of playgrounds are sited next to busy roads, car parks, open water, or other hazards. For older children this obviously isn’t a problem, since you can explain about the importance of staying away from cars, not going near the water, etc. However, when you’re dealing with toddlers and preschoolers it’s not quite the simple: reason and logic doesn’t always apply, and even the most carefully-schooled small child can instantly forget all of the gentle lectures about the importance of keeping off the road if they suddenly see an interesting-looking dog, or something on the pavement, while their parent or caregiver’s attention is momentarily distracted.
My request is simple: more fenced playgrounds for toddlers and preschoolers. My family is fortunate because we live near one excellent fenced playground, and we have another one or two a reasonably close drive away. Our local playground is officially designed for children aged two to twelve, but it’s mainly used by children under the age of eight, and the majority of families who visit it have toddlers and preschoolers. If you speak to any parents in that playground – and I often do – they will sing the praises of the space and specifically mention that they came there because it’s fenced, and therefore they knew that their children could play safely. Similarly, I know from personal experience and from my conversations with fellow parents that there are plenty of playgrounds that are ‘no-go areas’, precisely because of the hazards nearby, and the inability to feel confident that our children can enjoy the space safely.
In the next few posts I’m going to set out the case for fenced playgrounds from a couple of relevant perspectives. I’m also going to explore some of the apparent reasons why we don’t currently have fenced playgrounds for younger children as a matter of course. This project is in the very early stages, but as I learn more about the current policies and strategies concerned playground siting and design I will share what I uncover. And I’ll create lists of playgrounds nominated by other parents throughout New Zealand: ‘star playgrounds’ that offer safe, fenced space for children and their parents or caregivers to enjoy, and ‘scary playgrounds’ – the ones that most parents actively avoid because of proximity to hazards. Finally, I’ll also profile playgrounds that are particularly wonderful – or particularly hair-raising!
This project will focus initially on Auckland, as that’s where I live. However, I know from feedback that there are many scary playgrounds throughout New Zealand, and a lot of frustrated parents throughout the country who can’t understand why their local councils are unable or unwilling to provide them with safe places for their children to play. I hope to make progress everywhere in due course.
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