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Playgrounds need more sand and less rubber, argues UBC researcher

WATCH ABOVE: Playgrounds look much different from when many of us were growing up. Kim Smith takes a look at how they've evolved and whether all the changes have been a good thing.

More and more playgrounds in Canada are removing sand and adding rubber-bottom surfaces. It’s a welcomed move for parents like Edmonton mom Jill Footz.

“Nobody likes to leave the park and have to dump half the park out onto the ground with the sand afterwards,” Footz explained.

But are they playable? That’s the question Susan Herrington wants more parents to think about. She is a professor in the school of architecture and landscape architecture at the University of British Columbia and has spent more than a decade studying children’s playgrounds.

“There’s no play value with rubber as there is with sand, Fibar and wood chips,” Herrington said.

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READ MORE: Edmonton daycare asks parents to bring helmets for the playground

She believes modern play spaces are too boring. She says playgrounds built over the last couple of decades tend to be lower to the ground, made of plastic and metal and all very similar.

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“I always ask parents what their fondest memories were of playing outdoors and it probably wasn’t playing on the rubberized playground. It was probably climbing a tree or something that dealt with nature,” Herrington said.

A PLAYLINK designed park at Rachel Keeling Nursery in London, England.
A PLAYLINK designed park at Rachel Keeling Nursery in London, England. PLAYLINK.org
Kids at Rachel Keeling Nursery in London, England enjoy exploring on wood and sand.
Kids at Rachel Keeling Nursery in London, England enjoy exploring on wood and sand. PLAYLINK
Children are now outside playing and learning in their newly developed school grounds at Sheringham Nursery School and Children’s Centre in London, England.
Children are now outside playing and learning in their newly developed school grounds at Sheringham Nursery School and Children’s Centre in London, England. PLAYLINK.org

PLAYLINK is a group that works to build shared spaces for kids in London, England. Its director Bernard Spiegal is a big fan of sand.

“Kids love it, sand and water is the most wonderful combination,” Speigal said via Skype from London. “Anybody who has watched kids playing or who had kids of their own is, sand and water will keep them occupied for significant amounts of time. It allows lots of flexible play. They can do lots of different things with it.”

READ MORE: Putting the risk back into play: the benefits of being less protective

His advice for city planners or volunteers planning new parks is to skip the rubber.

“I think you should stop doing it immediately. It’s very expensive, it is aesthetically unpleasing, not playable.”


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