Photo – http://hungovernews.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/lifeguard.jpg
A funny thing happened on my way to finding a good place to play for the kids in my neighborhood. I talked with the Recreation Director and mentioned the unused open space along the Russian River that forms one side of that triangle that encloses our homes. I suggested that all we really need to make it work is someone to open the gate and “sit” with the kids. Oh, and it wouldn’t hurt if they adopted some or all of the techniques that the wonderful folks at Pop Up Adventure Play have developed. Knowing her I wasn’t too surprised that she liked the idea and was enthusiastic about Pop Up too.
Photo: Pop Up Play
As we talked it became increasingly clear to me that we have a model for somebody who just sits and watches kids play that is well over 100 years old and exists in virtually every corner of our society – the Lifeguard! In fact just across the river from our intended new good place to play is a county park that runs along the water’s edge. While the weekends are packed more than half the time the guards are on duty there are few, if any, swimmers yet nobody complains this is a waste of money.
Well. I say that if we can afford to have somebody watch kids play in the water then we can afford to have them watch kids play in the dirt!. I suspect that such Play Attendants would be lower cost than guards since they won’t have to be safety certified, just typical recreation staff. I’m leaning towards a lifeguard model rather than asking parents to do a co-op for several reasons but primarily the kind of play I hope to foster will not be easy to do with parents running the show. I mean the only thing that lifeguards do is blow a whistle when you run on the sidewalk.
I think this idea has the potential to really get some traction. It will appeal to those who long to provide the the kind of memorable play experiences we’ve been talking about. It will appeal to those in the urban planning community who want to provide open space for unstructured play. I’ve already discovered that at least some recreation professionals can embrace the idea.
My next step is to look into how to fund this project and stick my finger into the hornet’s nest of getting the Fish and Game folks to let us use the space. Stay tuned!
If you want to really dig into this subject I recommend a recent interview of Peter Gray published in the American Journal of Play.
“Peter Gray is known best for his widely assigned university-level textbook Psychology, now in its sixth edition. HisPsychology Today blog—“Freedom to Learn: Play and Curiosity as Foundations for Learning”—has earned a large following while drawing eclectically from recent scholarship in history, anthropology, sociology, and economics. Gray has long appreciated how spontaneous, unsupervised play aids self-directed learning and self-assurance in children, and he explores this natural process and its societal implications at length in his latest book, Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life. In this interview, Gray talks about the lifelong social, physical, and moral value of play, and he identifies and traces the consequences of factors that in recent decades have eroded opportunities to play.”