March 23, 2013
This week has brought news that will require a major shift in the Playscape Project. To my great surprise and disappointment, the Massachusetts EEC has now reversed the approval needed to try out the playcube in a child care center. The EEC states:
“The licensing staff use the Standards for Licensure as a tool for assessing the environment and equipment as well as other areas in programs. Equipment must be designed to withstand the use by many children which is why commercially made equipment is required. Commercially made equipment have been determined to meet federal standards for use. In some cases equipment has been recalled when it has been deemed unsafe due to injuries to children and programs are required remove the equipment. Your equipment has not been reviewed by any organization such as ASTM and there is no way to know whether or not it is safe to be used in a child care center”

My strategy for the development of safe designs for play equipment has always been to bring in collaborators from as many diverse backgrounds as possible to insure the safety of the equipment. This has been a crucial part of the project from the beginning, as I need to insure kids will be safe, and safety has been at the center of my thinking all along. A focus on safety is also crucial to anyone who designs anything these days, as there are liability issues that can create a huge risk for the designer if anyone gets hurt and lawsuits result. This is the reason the current playcube design insures that children stay close to the ground as they play and explore; it minimizes the potential fall and injury risk. I have asked and received consultation from a number of experienced designers, engineering professionals and developmental therapists for feedback on the design. The choice of materials and construction is sturdy, stable and able to withstand active play as is required.

I view the current situation with the EEC as part of a much larger question that has grown in significance and touches every aspect of how children are raised and allowed to grow and explore. It has influenced and often controlled the very factors that have resulted in indoor environments for children that offer so little in the way of opportunities for active movement and play. It is the question of acceptable risk, and how children need to be allowed to take some risks during active play and exploration in order to gain the confidence and skills they need to grow. Efforts to insure safety have often resulted in the removal of more and more “potential hazards” that are identified and removed during safety inspections. This leaves empty play spaces and the absence of any level of physical challenge that children need.

Children need to move and crawl and throw and catch and slide and ride and swing and jump and they need opportunities to challenge themselves every day. A sedentary childhood is a form of neglect. Everyone who seeks to protect children needs to work together to provide environments that offer the chance for children to move and learn from ongoing movement challenges. My years of experience both as a pediatric therapist and as a consultant in pre-schools has taught me that children who lack experience and opportunities to move end up more frustrated, less ready to learn, more difficult to manage and much more likely to misbehave than children who are given the chance to move and exercise every day.

My vision for the playscape project has always been to engage the whole community of people who interact with pre-school children. I have not been seeking to become a commercial playground supplier, as I am well aware of the financial constraints that limit budgets for commercial equipment in most pre-schools. Most pre-schools can simply not afford the sort of expensive equipment that might be available commercially, and so children’s needs remain unmet. The goal of the Playscape Project is to devise simple and inexpensive designs that can be duplicated and donated to preschools that can not otherwise afford them. I hope to connect and build a community of volunteers who would donate labor and time to build indoor play equipment using plans the Playscape Project generates for their own communities. Volunteers could include high school vocational students, retired adults, parents and family members of pre-school children, artists and hobbyists who love to build things. The list is long and the potential for good is limitless. The EEC is lacking vision in insisting that only “commercially made equipment” can meet the needs of children. I will continue to advocate for a wider vision that allows people in the community to help their their own children, and also examines why “safe and sedentary” is not the best way to protect our kids, and will actually cause them harm.

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