Ever been to a local playspace with your toddler to find that the surfacing is impossible for them to walk or crawl on, or there is a ladder they can’t climb because the rungs are too far apart, or no activities they can manipulate or use because their hands are too small or the object is too heavy to turn? This is a very common experience in many ‘local’ playspaces and my feeling is that as a result many little ones are either trying activities that are unsuitable for them or not using anything at all in a public playspace, lest their parents go prematurely grey chasing after them.
It isn’t really good enough, particularly given that ‘local’ public playspaces tend to be accessed more by families with smaller children because they are close to home.
The issue I feel is that we tend to think of under 3’s as not being very capable of physical activity and never more could the opposite be said. It’s just a case of making sure we are supporting their growing developmental needs. Recent changes to playground standards has seen equipment deemed as ‘accessible’ and ‘non-accessible’ for little ones. The intent of this is not to promote clearer design of suitable play equipment and spaces for age-groups, rather it is to set a benchmark for appropriate or inappropriate use.
A really good example where thoughtful design for toddlers has prevailed in a public park is the ‘toddler playspace’ at Fawkner Park, undertaken by the City of Melbourne at couple of years ago. Whilst probably a little ‘clean’ and ‘tidy’ for my playspace liking, the environment is one of stepped levels, sensory planting, grass mounds and undulating surfaces and toddler sized art pieces and equipment. Shade from lovely mature trees provides a suitable lawn area for parents with babies to spread a rug out for baby to lie or crawl on. Consideration of suitable element dimensions and surfaces have been given to ensure they support baby and toddler activity and carers as well.
Fawkner Park Toddlers Playspace in Melbourne
Many large destination playspaces claim to have activities for toddlers and often include sand and water play as well which is highly valuable for this age group. The reality is that most municipalities or regions have no more than one of these which parents often have to drive several kilometres to. To me this doesn’t seem to promote sustainable transport and place making in a local area at all.
I have also seen a much stronger push from many councils in recent years to either remove local playspaces and put resources into larger playspaces or provide more at a local level for challenging activity for older kids.
The responsibility lies not just with play equipment manufacturers (although a better understanding of the under 3’s and their needs wouldn’t go astray), but also with local government to be more thoughtful in the design of their local playspaces, particularly in relation to this age-group.
The under 3’s have very little voice and rely on us to do the right thing by them…..so we owe it to them to provide better play for them in their local neighbourhoods.