A Place to Play by Elizabeth Goodenough This is a collection of ssays and photographs to go with the Michigan Television documentary “Where Do the Children Play?” (which I have not seen.) I found it interesting and somewhat depressing, as it turns out that experts are figuring out what kids need for healthy play, and city planners and parents are giving them exactly the opposite. Kids need to be outside, unsupervised. They need to be able to meet other children without having to be driven to them. They need sticks, rocks and water and to be allowed to get dirty and watch things grow. They need green hidey-holes where they can see and not be seen. This is told in essays by experts from around the world, people who’ve studied play in the past and present, in inner cities and other countries. Perhaps someday we, like Europeans, will have Adventure Playgrounds that more closely match what children need than our climbing structures, and licensed play workers who are trained to facilitate healthy play without controlling it. Perhaps someday we’ll learn to value the creativity that comes with dirt over the neat, ordered play of structured playgrounds and video games. Someday.
The most recent issue of “Brain, Child” had an article critiquing Last Child in the Woods and the idea of nature deficit disorder that Louv puts forth there; he’s also got an essay in this book. I agree with the article that it’s more important to spend time as a family than just to be outside, but I also think that A Place to Play answers some of her critiques of Last Child in the Woods, namely that what he’s calling for can only be accomplished by middle and upper class families with a stay-at-home mother and safe access to nature. In A Place to Play, they specifically talk about city housing designed to be both affordable for working-class people and to give children room to play together, as well as landscaping daycares and school yards to allow for more real contact with nature. These methods may not be currently popular, but they are possible and have been done before.