Erica, a dedicated student in our Playworker Development Course students, shares insightful reflections from the PDC. She delves into her experiences and challenges, providing valuable perspectives on the importance of play design. Erica has been working steadily through the 12 modules. She has been reflecting recently on her practice. With her permission, we’ve decided to share some of her thoughts on our blog. She has written for our blog before and we’re excited to have her back again!

Ten years ago, I began taking play seriously. Observing children in various settings—woods, playgrounds, parking lots—made me understand diverse play types and how the environment influences opportunities. At each location, I questioned, “What’s on the play menu?” (Bear with me through an extended food metaphor).

Most kids seemed to subsist on the play equivalent of fast food; the ubiquitous spaces that landscape architect Helen Woolley cleverly dubbed “KFC” or kit-fence-carpet playgrounds. My research into adventure playgrounds I concluded that adults should offer what I deemed the “highest forms” of play—den-building, getting dirty, and taking big risks with sharp tools. Can we draw inspiration from the local food movement and provide kids with organic chicken and sautéed vegetables?

In my role as an environmental educator, I introduced loose parts in play areas. Observing children using objects creatively, I encountered resistant staff and safety concerns. Unbeknownst to me then, there’s an analogy: community gardens are to factory farms what adventure playgrounds are to KFC playgrounds. Do-it-yourself spaces are cost-effective and cater to local needs. However, they’re unpredictable and demand specialised management skills. Frustration with the status quo can lead to extreme viewpoints; both the food and play movements sometimes uphold unrealistic ideals. Organic heirloom tomatoes grown nearby aren’t accessible to everyone. Not all children can reach a playworker-staffed wonderland of kid-built forts.

Exploring more play spaces and pursuing a graduate degree in landscape architecture, I realised the importance of balance. Children, like a balanced diet, need a play buffet, choosing what suits them in the moment. Most kids play near home and school, encountering a mix of KFC and loose parts play—whether limited to twigs and sand on asphalt edges. I’m captivated by the notion that a neighbourhood could offer as many play opportunities as it does food options: grocery store, takeout, street vendor, or vending machine. My goal as a designer is to create diverse play opportunities within the existing context, encouraging adults to broaden their expectations.

I’m nearing completion of the course and have reconsidered the notion of adults “providing” play. Kids naturally play anywhere with whatever is at hand. While great design expands opportunities, we can also foster a child’s ability to meet their play needs in impoverished settings. A pop-up adventure playground or a romp in the woods nurtures a child’s flexibility and adaptability. These experiences, akin to cooking classes, teach kids to combine elements creatively. Pondering play and design, I’ll seek ways to empower children to prepare their own play menu and even cultivate the ingredients themselves.

In her exploration of different play spaces and her studies in landscape architecture, Erica shares eye-opening reflections from the PDC. These firsthand reflections from the PDC provide a unique perspective on fostering meaningful play experiences. If you want to hear more about our course and from the students that have been part of it, please do get in touch. We look forward to hearing from you!

By Erica Quigley