For the purposes of this blog, the child in this case study will be called Molly. Molly is three years old, she loves dinosaurs and playing fairies. Molly comes from a very creative family, and is used to playing with clay.
In this exercise I first asked Molly to draw a monster of her very own creation. This can be seen in the drawing above. Initially Molly’s monster was a big furry ball, when asked if the monster was going to have arms and legs, Molly said that it would not, and instead it rolled its way around like a giant ball. Later in the exercise this changed slightly to the monster having smooth scaly skin but this soon reverted back when Molly decided the name for the monster would be fluffy.
Once Molly had drawn her monster I asked her to create the lair where the monster would live. To make the lair I had provided Molly with terracotta clay and found natural objects I had collected (shells, sticks, conkers, stones). At first Molly had a little trouble in thinking of the materials as anything other than what they were. For instance Molly put the clay in a shell and said “the monster eats clay out of the shell”(this is quite normal for children so young). However when we worked a little on the idea that the clay could become lots of things, Molly soon got into her stride. When thinking about her Monsters lair, rivers were mentioned several times, often the monster/dinosaur lived under the river and had to swim through it to get to their secret den. Molly also mentioned her monsters/dinosaurs having to squeeze through holes that were too small for them to enter their house. I thought it was interesting how the monster/dinosaur had to go through challenges to get into their lair, rather then simply creating a door for the monster to walk through. When creating the lair Molly also “chopped a bit off so the dinosaur could see the sea”. Obviously being able to see out is important in Molly’s fantasy den. Molly also made several comments about what the monsters were eating without being prompted. This could indicate the importance of the ritual of food in a child’s play (although this might be an individual trait).
During the monsters lair building exercise I asked Molly some questions suggested by Susan G. Solomon in the article How to Engage Kids and Community in Playground Design. One of these questions was ‘Where do you go to be alone? To be with friends?’, to both questions Molly’s answer was dinosaur valley. When asked another question from the article ‘What is the most dangerous, scary places you have ever gone?’, Molly did not give a place but described some music that was described as dinosaur music from a dinosaur film Molly and her mother had watched together. I find it fascinating how one of the things that she finds the scariest is also the place she wants to be. Something that is also interesting about Molly and dinosaurs is that despite of being able to name and describe many dinosaurs from the long necked diplodocus to the ridged backed stegosaurus, Molly still prefers the tyrannosaurus rex, one of the deadliest dinosaurs of all time.
These apparatus struck me as being different because instead of swinging in a sitting position, you are encouraged to stand. In Lydstep park a lot of the equipment is based on the idea of using a snowboarding stance, which would probably appeal to the older kids.
My Favourite Apparatus by far is this giant swinging rope situated in Roath park. Standing at the front of this, you use your body weight to sway the rope back and forth, before you know it you are transported to the helm of your very own ship!
I love the way that you stumble upon these playgrounds. They work as both play spaces and spaces where you can simply sit and chat. I can imagine that the ambiguity of the play areas might make them more attractive to children who are a bit older.
I also enjoy the way that the landscape around the play area is used. In the playscape situated in Cardiff Bay you can see how the desert theme creates a platform for the child’s imagination.
In a lot of the playgrounds I have visited in Cardiff, the equipment shows quite obvious ways to climb, commonly with designated start and end points too. The selection of playgrounds shown above appeal to me because the ‘correct way’ to use the equipment is not clear. You are not quite sure how to approach it. This brings the essential problem solving element to the child’s play.
No matter where I travelled in Cardiff, these old relics kept cropping up. Some so weary from service that actual mascara drenched tears seemed to have appeared rolling down their cheeks from the strain of service! When visiting these parks in the winter with no children to be seen, it is hard to imagine why these rather gothic looking animals have remained whilst the new apparatus surrounding them make it obvious that the playground has been revamped many times. However as the weather picks up and the children again ascend onto the playgrounds once more, I saw how these animals in spite of their rugged appearance, still held great resonance with the children. You can see on the picture above how one child has taken to feeding grass to a bin disguised as a dolphin rather than playing with the apparatus in the playground.
One question I did find myself asking was could these animals in our playgrounds be more relevant to their surrounding area. This way the playground might help to advance the children’s vocabulary of the wonderful array of wildlife that is quite literally in their back garden. In this way children might be encouraged to build a relationship with the natural world around them.