I never thought much about what goes into a playground until I was asked to help build one.
The folks at Tangerine invited me and a few other local bloggers to take part in their most recent #BrightWayForward campaign – helping build a new, natural playground for the City of Moncton. In one day.
The playground was a partnership between the bank, the city, and Bienenstock Playgrounds. The playground experts designed the park and started laying out the design on Tuesday. On Thursday, a couple hundred volunteers, mostly Tangerine employees (120 of 135 local staff took part – someone had to keep the bank running), came to Centennial Park and completed an amazing transformation.
The area at the top of the lake, to the north east of the dog park, went from a few scattered picnic tables to full of life and imagination. There is the “longest wobbly log in all of Canada” (according to Mayor George LeBlanc), a beautiful bench carved from a tree, stumps of all shapes and sizes, hills to climb, and a cave to explore.
Each element is chosen to appeal to various ages: the ropes strung between tree stumps are low enough for cruising babies gathering courage to walk, make wonderful horses and motorcycles for preschoolers with galloping imaginations, entice youngsters to test their balancing skills, and become a game for teenagers testing to see who can jump from one to the next.
This playground is more than a set of monkey bars and some swings. It sparks imagination. It builds creativity. It crosses generational boundaries. It brings community together.
“This is about giving back to the community and about getting kids back in touch with nature,” said Adam Bienenstock, founder of the playground company, at the opening. “It’s something that we’ve lost in our cities across North America.”
Bienenstock travels the continent creating natural playgrounds and sharing his thoughts on the importance of unstructured and risky play.
The term ‘risky play’ is pretty popular these days. We’re not talking about preschoolers hang gliding and base jumping. What folks mean by risky play is likely what you called life as a child: climbing on rocks, exploring the woods, leaping from low branches, and learning to be independent decision makers.
Over the past few decades, the number of kids enjoying free time outside has decreased. There are countless reasons why, but what matters now is getting them back outside and back on track. The same week as Moncton’s natural playground was being built, ParticipACTION released a report card on Canadian kids and physical activity. The grade: D-. (Believe it or not, this is an improvement over a few years ago when we, as a country, failed our children.) The 2015 report included a position statement on active outdoor play.
“Access to active play in nature and outdoors — with its risks — is essential for healthy child development. We recommend increasing children’s opportunities for self-directed play outdoors in all settings — at home, at school, in child care, the community and nature.”
The ParticipACTION report found that kids move more and sit less when they play outside — especially if they have some freedom to roam and take risks. That’s exactly what happens in this natural playground.
I’d add that having more parents take part in community builds like this is also necessary. We need to reconnect to nature. We need to reconnect with our childhoods. We need to fill our communities with amazing play spaces that allow our children’s imaginations and our own to wander. We need to remember that tree stumps are magical.
For more on spaces where you can be active with your kids, be sure to check out our guide to parks and playgrounds in Moncton, Riverview, and Dieppe.