Delta adventure playgrounds aim to take 'bubble wrap' off kids

It’s a throwback to the days when kids would get together to climb a crate or use a hammer and nails to build something.

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While adventure playgrounds at first glance seem to have some element of risk, that’s the whole point, according to the Corporation of Delta, which has joined a growing number of communities hoping to take the “bubble wrap” off kids.

This summer, two such playgrounds, a free, drop-in activity until Sept. 3, are being offered at the South Delta Recreation Centre and the North Delta Recreation Centre.

Unlike regular playgrounds, these supervised sites provide a space for children to engage in unstructured play and exploration of their surroundings. Children have tools and materials to build their own play space with the aim of allowing them to use their imagination, all while learning to assess risk.

Parks and recreation director Ken Kuntz said the playgrounds have proved popular.

“The thing that was cool is when the kids first arrive, it’s kind of their first experience and were expecting to be led and it takes them a little adjustment to go, ‘Oh, yeah, I can do this on my own and actually hammer a nail into a board or tie a rope up to a tree. They’re just not used to not being led and our attendants were there to make sure the proper footwear was adhered to and make sure the kids were conducting themselves right and not hurt themselves, but the rest was really up to the kids to figure out,” he said.

Noting it was also a learning experience for Delta. Kuntz noted things that began to appear a little too risky were removed.

“We did a lot of research what other municipalities were doing and we had our risk manager review all the actions we that take. We do try to sign it well, so the parents know what they’re coming into, but there were judgment calls we had to make. That was learning from our side.”

Parents Karla Fevang and Sarah Toni at the South Delta Recreation Centre’s adventure playground both like the idea of unstructured play.

“I know some mums moaned because they want to go in there, but it’s great when the kids know they can do things on their own. It seems like a lot of parents want to do everything for them,” said Toni.

Fevang agreed, saying, “Kids shouldn’t be bubble wrapped. If they want to go out there, I told them they’re going to get bruises, they’re going to get scrapes. Otherwise, they’ll never figure things out.”

Last year Delta council approved new policy that provides incentives in cost-sharing agreement for more natural play features in playgrounds. Although not quite the same as adventure playgrounds, the idea is generally the same -- providing children the opportunity to explore freely, use their imaginations and learn to assess risk.

School parent advisory groups, so far, have yet to take Delta up on the offer, but the North Delta Lions Club opened such a playground earlier this year at Annieville Lions Park through a cost-sharing agreement.
Costing around $150,000, the natural playground replaces a portion of the older play structure and is designed for children of various ages, from toddlers to teens.

A Delta staff report notes experts say too many rules and standards governing how high or how fast a child can go brings too much order to playgrounds, making them unappealing to children.

"The experts say poor professional responses to tragedies is behind the mind shift to bubble wrap children. This resulted in a change in perception of kids being confident and independent to being vulnerable and needing to be overly cared for," the report states.

Research from UBC and the Child Family Research Institute at B.C. Children's Hospital concludes that risky outdoor play is beneficial for children's health as well as encourages creativity, social skills and resilience.
 

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