Can We Build Better Playgrounds?

The right design can nudge kids into being more active

Hi everyone,

Hard to believe it’s mid-August already! I hope you’ve all managed to find some bit of joy somewhere this summer despite [gestures vaguely at the world].

First, some book business:

And now, on to . . .

Active Playground Design

I’ve got a new story out in Science about playground design and whether we can create play spaces that nudge kids into being more active.

I wanted to share one interesting additional thread that I didn’t have room to explore fully in the story. Though individual kids vary enormously, studies consistently find that in general, younger kids tend to be more active on playgrounds than older ones, and boys tend to be more active than girls. But the reasons for that are complicated.

Consider a 2016 study at a public school in Denmark, in which researchers used GPS trackers and accelerometers to map where students’ recess activity. They found that while some girls did play in the schoolyard—four square was a popular activity—many stayed inside the building, reading, playing cards, or socializing.

But it would be wrong to assume that girls don’t want to be active. Indeed, when the researchers interviewed the kids, the girls said that there simply wasn’t much in the schoolyard that appealed to them. They’d also been boxed out by childhood social hierarchies. The soccer fields were dominated by boys, and the girls had learned that even when they tried to play, their male classmates rarely passed them the ball. “There is a very strong dominance typically by the oldest boys that are on top of the hierarchy, and they take the most popular facilities,” Jasper Schipperijn, a sports scientist who led the research, told me. “And girls, unless they’re really, really skilled at certain sports, then there’s often not the opportunity for them to join in.”

The research suggests that not only is it important to provide play amenities that appeal to girls—Schipperijn and his colleagues have had great success with dedicated dancing spaces—but also to provide enough play spaces that girls don’t get pushed aside. Indeed, Schipperijn got further confirmation of this dynamic when he studied a school that had ample space for soccer, with four or five different pitches. “All of a sudden, when there was an abundance of opportunities, we also saw that teenage girls were playing soccer,” he said.

For more on the science of playground design, check out the full story.

Indoor Ephemera

Bonus Interspecies Animal Content

[EDIT: The original link didn’t work—sorry email subscribers!—so this is a new one. Click through for the video.]]

Baby Animals Variety Pack: https://imgur.com/r/Eyebleach/1Ofz1O8

Emily

The Great Indoors is now out! You can find it at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop, IndieBound, or your local independent bookstore. (And if you’ve already read the book, please consider leaving an Amazon rating or review!)

You can read more of my work at my website and follow me on Twitter, Instagram, and Goodreads. (You can follow me on Facebook, too, I suppose, but I rarely post there.)