Many are well aware that intergenerational interactions create enriching experiences for all involved. With the incorporation of design elements that effectively encourage an active involvement from the many adults in a child’s life, a play area’s overall value and ability to promote strong development can be significantly increased.
Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, older cousins, teachers, and coaches all naturally want to be involved in advancing the emotional, physical, and educational development of young adults and growing children. By including those individuals into the idea of how a playscape may be used, better playgrounds, stronger communities, and even greater benefits from regular play can be quickly realized.
Core Principles for Intergenerational Playground Design
The opening of the popular playground Cambridge Common shows many parents doing much more than merely sitting on the sidelines. | Video via Goric
Adding intergenerational play elements to current indoor and outdoor playgrounds, or when designing a play area from the very beginning, requires conscious choices to be made. Bringing an awareness to the need, and inviting community stakeholders of all ages into the design and development process, often proves vital for a more beneficial playscape to emerge. Agreement on what defines an intergenerational playground is essential as well. The following elements can be useful for identifying the qualities that make a playscape well suited for intergenerational play:
- A focus on interactivity between participants of all ability levels
- Ground-level accessibility that invites playful interactions
- Intentional targeting of variable ages and interests with specific play elements
- Play challenges that encourage the development of coordination, confidence, social skills, and a positive approach to overcoming difficulty
When intergenerational play elements are introduced, the benefits of such a design focus becomes fully available to all participants. Additionally, parents and similar adults who interact with one another develop stronger social bonds. Instead of polite acquaintances on a park bench, a real community can be nurtured and grow. Social barriers between adults become reduced, and even eliminated. The result can quickly include a safer park, and a more enjoyable environment for all families and community members.
A Playful Path Forward
Stone Abacus | Image via Goric
It is important to keep focus on the goal of creating an inviting play space, while remaining flexible on how the goal of an intergenerational playscape may be achieved. By encouraging a variety of stakeholders to actively participate, buy-in will increase from an ever-widening community. The result is likely to be a better playground that more fully meets the needs of the entire community in which it is situated.
One small note of caution. A focus on intergenerational play is not a means to suggest that adults need to be intimately involved with the activities to the point of dictating, directing, and defining what is and is not acceptable play. Real play requires discovery, which is itself fueled by free exploration of that which may be possible. Adults should not dictate such exploration, they should participate in it. In this way, the very real benefits of regular play can be experienced by all.
When we go to the park, we go to play. When we take our kids to a park, our intention is for them to play. We know that the whole purpose is play. And then, we do not ourselves play. We mostly watch. Intergenerational playgrounds can change this dynamic to the betterment of ourselves, our families, and the communities we call home.