Why supporting grandparents is so critical to the future of play in our communities (Play Today 2)

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Last year I worked with Grandparents Victoria as they prepared to undertake their annual survey around  grandparents perceptions and thoughts around play. Play Australia has been developing a strategic partnership with Grandparents Victoria and little wonder why. Over 20,000 households in Australia are headed by grandparents and nearly 50% look after their grandchildren while their children work, sometimes upwards of 50 hours per week.

While caring for grandchildren can be a wonderfully rewarding experience for many people, for many grandparents particularly those in their senior years keeping up with young children is much more mentally and physically challenging, than raising their own children was.

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In 2017 the International Journal of Play published a study of 2 Neighbourhoods in Wales and the resulting opportunities for children*. Above all else it was found that ‘Developing a cohesive ‘play culture’ with communities has a more of a role in influencing children’s freedom and opportunities to play than anything else’. By this it meant that the broad cross-section of community, including older persons / grandparents needed to ‘want’ investment in play for children. Grandparents are often one of the leading supporters of quality play opportunities for children, conversely they also often tend to be most risk averse. This is understandable given they are responsible for other people’s children and having been there before – know the pitfalls.

One of the greatest challenges tends to be the outdoor physical environment’s grandparents and grandchildren inhabit, in particular parks and play spaces. Many spaces don’t consider the needs of older adults in terms of access, supervision, mobility and most importantly seating and shelter. Grandparents want to feel comfortable in these spaces, not only for themselves but also in relation to their duty of care to their grandchildren.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that all play spaces should be fenced either. Council’s making sure that there are a range of sizes of play space in local areas, all with a path to the play space and a seat (preferably in the shade with good view of the play space), and easy access around play equipment to get to grandchildren if they need too. Clearly visible differences in play equipment suitable for junior and senior age ranges will mean that it is easy to make choices to guide grandchildren to play suitable to their age and competency.

In addition if the setting can be designed to support Grandparents, parents and carers to interact, socialise and even ‘physically exercise’ (i.e. , picnic tables, flexible elements that can be used for fitness) this will also make the play space much more inclusive and ‘intergenerational’ and work towards connecting ‘community’. As the number of grandparent carers grows, this has to become more and more important to designers and play providers alike.

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Improving the availability of information about council’s commitment to play and their provision of public play spaces is also important, so that grandparents can become greater advocates for a community play culture too!

*Long, A ‘Its not just about ‘more’: A research project exploring satisfaction with opportunities to play, for children in two Welsh neighbouring communities’  International Journal of Play. February 2017

Play Australia’s Play Today Campaign fact sheets (see image below) can be downloaded from www.playaustralia.org.au/play-today 

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