Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Mazes, trampolines and play

click photo to enlarge
A few years ago I was using Google Maps to look at a city that I know quite well when I became aware that many of the back gardens in suburban neighbourhoods featured large blue circles of varying sizes. It took me a moment to realise that they were outdoor trampolines. The number of these pieces of play equipment staggered me, and I looked at a few other towns and cities to see whether this was a local or a national phenomenon. Sure enough, wherever I looked, there they were. It seemed to me a testament to the pester-power of children that so many parents had bought one of these trampolines, particularly since they are known to be a prime cause of broken bones, but more especially because they are also recognised to be something that children quickly tire of. Perhaps they are bought by parents who envisage the exercise they induce being an antidote to the increasing childhood obesity!

However, the sight of so many of these trampolines caused me to reflect further on the deeper reasons why parents fill their gardens with swings, play houses, wooden towers, slides, etc. Clearly it's most obviously a physical expression of affection. It's also, unfortunately, partly due to the guilty feelings they have for not giving enough time to their children due to the long hours they work. There's clearly, too, an element of "keeping up with the Joneses", or at least the Jones's children. Then there's the fear of letting children play unsupervised in the street, the immediate neighbourhood or the local park. I've long been concerned about the retreat from public spaces, and the valuing of private property over that owned by the community.

Two thoughts follow from my reflection on garden play equipment. Firstly, children get much more play value and satisfaction from a pile of wooden beams and flat panels than they do from any ready-made equipment supplied by a manufacturer. A home-made kit of this sort, with a few pieces of rope and large nuts and bolts can be made into whatever the child can imagine. And secondly, using the public park rather than the small, inferior one that parents provide offers more than simply exercise: it gives the child social interaction and responsibilty. It also gives them the chance to experience a maze of the sort shown in today's photograph. Of itself this hasn't a great deal of play value. But, there are other pieces of equipment nearby to sample too. And there are other parks elsewhere to try. Much more fun, I think, than being cooped up in the back garden with a circular blue trampoline.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Lumix LX3
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 5.1mm (24mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f2.2
Shutter Speed: 1/125
ISO: 80
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On