Playgrounds: Good for the Heart and Soul

Posted by martin.parnell | Play
Playgrounds: Good for the Heart and Soul

On December 31st the Martin Parnell 6th Annual Run / Walk will take place at the Spray Lake Sawmills Family Sports Centre in Cochrane. This year, the event is a fundraiser to raise $10,000 for a playground for the Lindsay Kimmett Kindergarten in the village of Mto wa Mbu in Tanzania. In Cochrane we have 29 playground but for the Kindergarten kids the closest one is 130 kms away.

The fact that these children have never played in a playground got me thinking about where did this concept of having a safe space for play developed.

The idea of the playground as a method for imbuing children with a sense of fair play and good manners originated in Germany where playgrounds were erected in connection to schools, although the first purpose built public-access playground was opened in a park in Manchester, England in 1859. Over time, organized playing areas have been adopted by other countries of the world and have become commonplace.

The first playground in the USA was built in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park in 1887 and in 1906 the Playground Association of America was founded. In 1907 recognizing the need for playgrounds, former President Theodore Roosevelt stated:

City streets are unsatisfactory playgrounds for children because of the danger, because most good games are against the law, because they are too hot in summer, and because in crowded sections of the city they are apt to be schools of crime. Neither do small back yards nor ornamental grass plots meet the needs of any but the very small children. Older children who would play vigorous games must have places especially set aside for them; and, since play is a fundamental need, playgrounds should be provided for every child as much as schools. This means that they must be distributed over the cities in such a way as to be within walking distance of every boy and girl, as most children cannot afford to pay carfare.

It’s interesting to note that Roosevelt recognised that “play is a fundamental need” and today we realise that this is true not only for children but also adults. Benefits to adults include:

Relieve stress. Play is fun and can trigger the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.

Improve brain function. Playing chess, completing puzzles, or pursuing other fun activities that challenge the brain can help prevent memory problems and improve brain function. The social interaction of playing with family and friends can also help ward off stress and depression.

Stimulate the mind and boost creativity. Young children often learn best when they are playing—and that principle applies to adults, as well. You’ll learn a new task better when it’s fun and you’re in a relaxed and playful mood. Play can also stimulate your imagination, helping you adapt and problem solve.

Improve relationships and your connection to others. Sharing laughter and fun can foster empathy, compassion, trust, and intimacy with others. Play doesn’t have to be a specific activity; it can also be a state of mind. Developing a playful nature can help you loosen up in stressful situations, break the ice with strangers, make new friends, and form new business relationships.

Keep you feeling young and energetic. In the words of George Bernard Shaw, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” Playing can boost your energy and vitality and even improve your resistance to disease, helping you feel your best.

So wherever you are on December 31st why not end the year with a “Play Day”. 

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