Kids, Parents, or Grandparents: Who are Community Playgrounds Really For?

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    Playgrounds are part of the fabric of American culture and community life. They enhance schools, community parks and recreational sites everywhere. For children, playgrounds are often the focus of recess activities. On weekends, they provide places for adventure and relaxation with friends and family. When given the opportunity, most kids spend hours hopping from one piece of equipment to another, playing games of make-believe and forming new friendships. Almost all of us can easily remember favorite moments and events that occurred at various parks in our lives.

    But who are playgrounds really for? Children? Adults? Families? Neighborhoods? The answer to all of these is, “Yes.” Playgrounds are for the entire community — for the kids among us and the kid in each of us.

    Recently, a local resident asked me about a playground that, like several in our Park District, was undergoing construction and renovation. He wanted to know when it would be completed so he could take his grandchildren there to play. This had been their weekly destination whenever the grandparents were babysitting. Several weeks later, I visited a newly renovated playground with my grandchildren and struck up a conversation with a gentleman sitting on a nearby bench. He, too, was there with his grandchild. He, too, visited the playground weekly.

    It became clear to me that playgrounds are a way for grandparents to provide fun for their grandchildren, have fun with their grandchildren and appear fun to their grandchildren! There is no age limit to joy and discovery.

    Playgrounds could be considered the foundational building blocks of the recreational facilities provided by the Conejo Recreation and Park District (CRPD). Of the 45 developed parks in the Park District, 42 of them have playgrounds, which are routinely renovated to maintain safe and healthy play environments. New features are often introduced for different kinds of play. CRPD staff researches the latest equipment and selects playground themes, with input from local communities. These new themes help open the door to greater imagination. While equipment such as swings and slides are standard, other forms of equipment — tractors, animals, musical instruments, markets, climbing walls, zip lines, gymnastics, game boards and more — offer the joy of mastering and exploring all the different playground apparatuses. This not only offers a lot of fun, but it boosts kids’ self-confidence and feelings of accomplishment.

    Play — and playgrounds — create a strong sense of community. Fun play equipment and imaginative themes and designs spark the imaginations of parents, grandparents and kids alike. The playgrounds and jungle gyms of previous eras may look different from the ones today made from galvanized pipes, but all provide hours of fun, exploration and transportation to other worlds. They invite us to exercise, enjoy time outdoors, make new friends and spend precious time with family. Playgrounds do for the mind, body and soul what screens and electronic toys simply can’t. Children especially develop important social, emotional, cognitive and physical skills. They interact with other kids and adults in a comfortable, spontaneous, informal environment, which is different from organized, formal settings. Even adults (like myself!) have come to appreciate the prospect of socializing in the tranquil, less restrictive and more relaxed environments of playgrounds!

    It’s for good reason that playgrounds are often the hub of a community, serving as serene spaces for residents to connect and interact with one another. If you think they are just for children, as I once did, take a look next time you pass by a playground or stop to let your child or grandchild play. I am sure you’ll see people of all ages enjoying conversation, laughter and quite a bit of fun. See you at the park!

    Doug Nickles is a Director/Board Member for the Conejo Recreation and Park District, the Conejo Open Space Conservation Agency and the California Association of Recreation and Park Districts. The views expressed are his and do not necessarily reflect those of the District, Agency or the respective Boards. He can be contacted via email at dnickles@crpd.org.

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