The Germans primarily influenced the development of playgrounds for children in the US. It could be noticed during the 21st century in the schools as well as parks. The concept of the playground had been started, to make sure that the development of children occurs in the best way as well as to have a positive impact on their education. Frederick Froebel of Germany, American psychologists, and educators, namely John Dewey and G. Stanley Hall, reinforced this idea.
It was in 1837 when Froebel started the first kindergarten in Germany. The natural child development playground was only because of his idea that it is responsible for the complete development of a child besides his physical and social growth. His pupils were engaged in various activities such as experiencing the canals, dams, bridges, exploring the olden structures, caring for the pets, observing natural flora and fauna. This principle was followed by schools in the US, which incorporated different toys that can affect the children’s’ creativity. Gradually, play and learning material related to indoor and outdoor were included in the schools for children.
The main aim of the schools in the US in the 19th century was to ensure their protection from any as well as dangers posed by the large cities, socially or physically. Since the American and German sites were nearby and a plot of ground at Northampton’s Round Hill School was established in 1825 by the use of German kind of apparatus, it indicates a German influence on America. Besides this, Jahn, who was a former German student, supervised the establishment of play and gymnastics using these German type of apparatus. But this idea ceased by 1830 because of a lack of interest.
The child-saving movement led to the development of Sand gardens and in 1886. The Massachusetts Emergency and Hygiene Association allowed sand piles to be placed in Childen’s Missions play yards of Boston’s Parmenter Street. This was the first well-organized playground for American children. There was a rapid growth of the playgrounds by 1981 with all facilities such as swings, ladders, seesaws, running track, a facility for bathing, etc., which were made freely available to the public.
Then came the Model playground concept, which became popular with the entry of equipment manufacturers into the scene. They added a new kind of apparatus for swinging, climbing, and sliding. Nature facilities were also made available to the children whenever there was enough space. The civic and charitable organizations, as well as the Playground Association of America, had a significant contribution to the playgrounds, but it was not wholly spread across the US during the 19th century.
The number of playgrounds gradually increased after the establishment of the Playground Association of America (PAA) in the year 1906. Since the playground’s focus was on social, recreation, and civic affairs, it was renamed to “recreation.”
During the 21st century’s first decade, the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) fortified the concept of play and playground and worked towards the establishment of intergenerational play involving leisure as well as recreation. Playground affects the emotional, cognitive, and social development of a child besides his physical development. This is the reason why the play and work curricula of indoor as well as outdoors are integrated.
If we consider the period during World War II, we can see that there were no playground supervisors, they lacked maintenance and thus could not flourish. The WRA era creations only remained functional, which are the historical sites that are still being renovated. Since the metal had to be gathered for war during 1941-1945, children were told to collect the scrap metal from the farms of businesses during breaks. It was like a play for them and was termed as a “junk playground” in Denmark. Even long before World War II, children used to play in the junkyards, garbage dumps, and other such areas to build their forts, houses. Thus, they played recreational games without being supervised by anyone.
At a later point in time, children got to create their playground by choosing what objects to play and the forms of play, with the help of play leaders in the UK. The first adventure playground was initiated in the year 1950 in Minneapolis, the US, which lasted for 12 months only. American President Bill Vance started the Adventure Playground Association (AAPA) in the year 1976, which also did not last long.
A playground formed at Mountain Park, Houston, in 1979 had various excellent facilities, and over 15000 people used it. It led to the formation of the Houston Adventure Playground Association and adventure playgrounds in the year 1986 in Mark Twain Elementary School and Freed Park. But it ceased to operate in the year 2002. There are numerous factors for the lesser life span of the American adventure playgrounds. It includes low funding, lack of play leaders and support from community leaders, junky look, and safety rules expansion.
In 1975, the oldest real adventure playground began in the US in Huntington Beach shifted to another site in 1981. It had various adventures available such as 16 ft mudslide, rafting pond, tire swing, tools and scrap, outdoor showers, changing rooms.
California Parks and Recreation Society named this playground as the recreation program of the year.
In 1979, Berkeley adventure playground started, which has a wide variety of creative play materials to build towers, boats, and forts, with all safety rules and assistance. The 2.2 acre Yorba Linda playground of 1982 needed the campers to register in advance for the theme sessions. Adventure playgrounds in California, Berkeley, Huntington Beach, and Yorba Linda remained in 2012.
After the natural and adventure playground equipment, the novelty playgrounds, also known as imaginative playgrounds, started during the 1950s-1970s. These fixed playgrounds resist change or any movement by children, and adults find it more appealing. This was the best way in which the planners and architects have expanded the playground design concept. Sixty such parks and squares were developed in Philadelphia. The Los Angeles Park Department built various equipment such as novel slides, theme villages, exercise equipment for multiple purposes. It was predicted that the focus of the manufacturers would be to use the steel and material that are action-oriented. Other predictions include the development of models swings in animal shapes, equipment for specific age groups, installing them in lower heights, and the use of gravel and bark pits for safety. All these were soon realized shortly.
We can see the designing and redesign of the types of equipment during the standardized playground era. This was primarily related to 4S, i.e., swings, slides, seesaws, superstructures. It is also associated with the stable structures found in American playgrounds in the 20th century. The standardizing of playground equipment started simultaneously during the 1970s and 1980s, mainly because of the injuries and lawsuits. Also, to prepare the national standards for playground equipment safety, task forces were formed.
There was a faster growth of the play as well as outdoor playgrounds in the late 1990s, i.e., the modern era. It was also identified earlier, the need for enhancing the playgrounds’ nature and scope as it was always limited to the typical standard equipment. The most important thing which needs to be focused on in a child’s playground is natural features such as plants, animals, streams, hills, dirt, and other living things and materials such as tools, utensils, blocks, support structures, etc. In America, the playgrounds are better known as playscapes because they have a broader purpose and diverse play materials and spaces. The playgrounds today are not only meant for children but also for people belonging to various age groups. This is the reason why the intergenerational playgrounds, integrated playgrounds, accessible playgrounds, and cyber-powered playgrounds came into existence.
When a child gets a pleasant play environment, his imaginative qualities will get enhanced. This is the reason why it is not recommended for adults to restrict their play environment. It leads to a lousy play environment that lacks resilience and the charm which children love. In such cases, they tend to lose the realization of nature’s delights.
A specific period is allowed by the American Public Schools, which follow an educational program to spend time in the playgrounds and parks for the person’s development at the physical level. People in the 21st century strive to create as well as expand the playgrounds for ensuring the fitness of body and mind, thus remaining healthy.
The spike in the playscapes can be seen since the year 2012, and this has been extensively supported by research work and experience in building habitats, gardens, tools, wild places, integration of building materials, and the incorporation of experiential learning in the schools as well as communities.
The research has helped us spot the impact of getting detached from nature and other creative play materials, which is hugely detrimental for the children’s development.
In this electronic era, children are reluctant to go outdoors and prefer spending hours playing mobile games, video games, involving in social networking sites, and watching TV, which will ultimately have a degenerative effect on their overall development. Besides this, the schools also shift their focus on academics rather than extracurricular activities. This prevents the chance of the children to learn and get benefited from a better childhood with enhanced creativity and exposure to nature. So, it’s high time to realize the importance of playgrounds and outdoor activities as the youth are ultimately a nation’s future.