Forget see-saws and slides. How about a playground built by kids armed with nails, hammers and handsaws?
Adventure playgrounds are part of a growing trend toward unstructured play meant to encourage kids to use their imagination and learn to assess risk. But it’s also drawing criticism from a Delta resident and safety expert, who says one such playground in Tsawwassen goes too far.
“I saw nails sticking out everywhere, swing sets made of tape and broom handles,” said Chris Samson, an industrial safety trainer. “There’s tripping hazards. It’s incredibly dangerous.”
Samson is most worried about nails sticking out of wooden ladders and planks. The playground has a sign requiring users to wear closed-toed shoes, but that’s not much protection if the nails pierce other body parts, he said.
“If that was any construction site and WorkSafeBC showed up, they’d be writing fines and infractions,” said Samson.
The City of Delta said there have been two injuries at the park this summer. They were minor cuts that were handled on-site.
Director of parks Ken Kuntz said the park is one of two adventure parks that offer “an environment in which children are allowed to imagine, create and construct their own play environment in a safe and secure setting.”
A formal inspection is done daily to identify and remove potential hazards. The playground is closed to entry and fenced off when it is not in use.
According to the website, children under seven must be under the supervision of an adult. However, the parent or guardian is encouraged to stay outside the playground fence. An attendant is present to oversee, but not lead, the play.
Samson, an avid skateboarder and a boxer who isn’t a stranger to risks, said he supports unstructured play, but believes the city has not done it justice. Kids can play with nails and hammers, he said, but there should be a station set up with supervision.
“I’m all for taking risks, so long as it’s done safely and there’s boundaries,” he said. “You’ve got to draw the line somewhere, and nails sticking out of wood are too much.”
The City of Delta said the adventure parks, which have been operating since 2016, have been visited by more than 4,000 participants each summer. The parks appear popular, with many on social media expressing their support.
Mariana Brussoni, an investigator at B.C. Children’s Hospital who is a UBC professor, is the lead author of a study that found risky outdoor play benefits a child’s physical and social health and encourages creativity, social skills and resilience.
Adventure parks were more prevalent in Canada and the U.S. in the ’70s and ’80s but fell out of popularity in favour of structured play. They’re making a comeback.
Coquitlam has a pop-up adventure park for kids age three to 12 with planks of wood, hammers, nails, tarps and other materials. Richmond’s adventure park features zip lines, a tree house, a rope walkway and a meadow maze for toddlers.
“They’re having a renaissance now,” she said. “There’s a real appetite for giving kids the chance to play the way they want to play and understanding that risk is part of that.”
Risky outdoor play is defined as exciting and exhilarating play where children engage with uncertainty and there is a risk of injury, explained Brussoni.
Aside from play with dangerous tools, which is what the Tsawwassen park highlights, risky outdoor play could include play at speed, like riding a bike fast or rolling down a hill; play at heights, which could include climbing trees or uneven structures; or play near dangerous elements, such as near fire, water or cliffs.
Brussoni said she’d be concerned with infants and toddlers playing with nails at the playground without supervision, but says that around age 3, kids are able to develop their own ideas on how to keep themselves safe.
“These kids that see those nails, they’ll figure out pretty quickly that nails are sharp and they will have the appropriate respect for those nails.”
In B.C., falls are the leading cause of injury-related hospitalizations for kids. The leading cause of falls are falls from playground equipment, and those are not frequent: There were 323 hospitalizations of children one to 14 reported in 16 years, and that included trampoline accidents.
Brussoni said there is very little research comparing safety of regular playgrounds and adventure playgrounds. One Texas study followed kids who had access to a regular school playground during the day and a pop-up adventure playground after school. There was only one broken arm reported over the course of the school year, and that occurred in the regular playground. No injuries were reported in the adventure playground.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019