One of the core beliefs of the Children at Play Network is that children should have agency over their play. When children have a sense of control their social, emotional, mental and physical health improves. Participatory placemaking activities involve children in the design and decision making regarding the environments they will occupy. Involving them in the design of playgrounds helps create better places for play but it also supports healthier children. As Playcosystem expands over the next several years children will be integral to the design process.
During a recent visit, children with the Backside Learning Center at Churchill Downs helped us understand what was important about tree houses. We created a base with upright dowels to represent a cluster of trees and provided the children with loose parts they could use to create their treehouse visions. During the model building our team was focused on being good observers. We watched, listened, photographed and videoed their explorations. We aren’t really looking for designs as much as we are looking for the thoughts behind their designs. We want to know what THEY see as important about a tree house experience. In the process the children become invested in the project. Now they see Playcosystem as their project because – well – it is their project.
Building a playground is a journey. Children are helping us navigate that journey.
A good resource for understanding how to conduct placemaking activities with children is Placemaking with Children and Youth – Participatory Practices for Planning Sustainable Communities by Derr, Chawla, and Mintzer.