Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Playgrounds Designed with Bullies in Mind

The playground bully is a classic villain in children's lives and literature alike.   Playgrounds don't create bullies, of course, but could design adjustments help prevent acts of bullying?

I recently came across a great vintage document by Gary Moore, Uriel Cohen, Jeffrey Oertel, and Lani van Ryzin of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, entitled Designing Environments for Handicapped Children:  a design guide and case study, published by the Educational Facilities Laboratory in 1979.

Its advice on play spaces for handicapped children is likely dated now, and in any case I am no expert in that field, though it should be noted that the work is replete with remarks on the importance of natural elements and the need for loose parts, lesson we still haven't learned.

But I was most intrigued by its discussion of "Retreats and Breakaway Points" (p. 68 of the doc, if you're following along).

'Retreats' are places that individuals or small groups can be away from other groups.  As the authors note, the placement of these areas is critical; they should be located out of the flow of, but still connected to, the general space of the playground, much like a nook or window seat in an interior space.  This allows a child to withdraw without having to completely cede the playground territory.

I'll add to the authors' analysis the further requirement that a retreat should be an attractive designed space in its own right.  A mere bench doesn't qualify.  In this way, a child who needs to utilize the retreat isn't surrendering their own enjoyment or involvement.  They're just moving to another attractive, though less active, part of the playscape.

A 'Breakaway Point' provides a face-saving exit from an 'unfavorable situation'.  Though the context of the authors is that of a physical challenge that a child might not be able to master, the idea is also relevant to the unfavorable presence of a bully.   Providing breakaway points also promotes increased exploration of the playground space by reducing the fear of an upcoming challenge.

The inclusion of these design features has no downside; even if they didn't reduce the potential for bullying they would be sensitive and attractive additions to any playscape.  As a quieter child myself, I usually hung out on the concrete steps of the school away from the vigorous play.  I would have welcomed a more inviting retreat. And having once felt trapped by a big kid on the climbing equipment, I just stayed away. 


The entire document is available online; it's definitely for the serious playgrounder but is full of vintage yet still relevant thoughts.  Highly recommended for your further reading!

No comments:

Post a Comment