There are several things that I observed in my short time in Germany that gave me pause, and made me wish for the same freedom to play in Canada.
So many articles have been written about our risk-adverse culture, or bubble-wrapping our children, or allowing our kids time in nature or time to create, or learning the value of risky, wild play. So many people write: remember the day? Remember when we were young and we could just wander the woods? Spend time in the back 40? Wander from backyard to backyard? Only come in when the streetlights went on? Or when Mom rang the big dinner bell for supper? Remember those days?
Or I often hear: kids these days. Don't know their native species. Only know corporate logos. Don't know how to use tools, even ones in the kitchen needed to make a meal. What is happening to our kids these days?
Or this: too much screen time. Not enough green time.
I'm sure we've all heard it. But I experienced some things in Hamburg that gave me hope for how things could evolve in Canada.
I spent some time biking around parts of Hamburg with my brother and his family. The first place we visited was this swing. It was not your average playground swing. Here is my brother, swooping back and forth on this amazing swing (you don't even need to wear a helmet or sign a waiver to try it!):
And here I am! So much fun.
Then we were off to a bauspielplatz (literally, a "construction playground" that my nephew affectionately calls a "junkplace") where kids age 7-15 can be dropped off after school or on weekends to play. And it's free! And there are staff - playworkers - who help the kids learn how to use the tools. Kids play in an incredibly fun way - they build. And not with blocks or Lego or anything so small or sanitary. They load up wheelbarrows full of lumber, pallets, used clementine orange crates and lug them to one of the areas of the building maze, and start working. They sign out tool boxes filled with nails and tools.
Take a peek!
There's a stage area, in case anyone is led to perform, with a fire burning nearby to provide some warmth when your hands get too chilly. The forts are amazingly stable - and colourful too! Kids can get buckets of paint and brushes to decorate the fort areas.
This construction playground reminded me of the maker movement - and MakerClub KW that my friends started here in Kitchener.
It also reminded me of literature that I've read about the playwork movement which started in Denmark in the 1930s. In the UK, "playworkers" were recognized as an official vocation in 1992. Play is defined as something that is freely chosen, personally directed, and intrinsically motivated. Playworkers:
Many of these principles relate to our forest school work. What would Canada look like if we were a bit more risky in our public play areas? How could we encourage this type of play in safe ways, teaching kids valuable skills along the way?
Hammers, Huge Swings, and the Freedom to Play