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Playground Prisons? A call for playground social distancing solutions

As primary schools begin to open across European countries such as France, Governments have stated that social distancing measures must be maintained and that children can not share objects. However, the playground solutions (1, 2) that have begun to emerge are rather disconcerting.

Although I would prefer to remain optimistic regarding children's ability to adapt and creatively play. We must realise that better design solutions are required for our children. One observer from the primary school in France where a playground box system was put in place, stated that “The children play, dance, jump, laugh together... but from this square. From what we have seen, they do not view it as a punishment.” (3) Although this maybe this adult's initial perception. I suspect that repeatedly playing within the confines of a box could grow to be traumatic for a child. How easy can it be for a 5 year old to understand why play, a means by which children at this age learn and thrive, must be constrained? To me, a box affords imprisonment and confinement. Surely we should be promoting freedom and exploration during outdoor play!

To me, this social challenge provides an opportunity to 1) Governments to evoke design guidelines for social distancing in playgrounds that are conducive to social engagement 2) Utilise sensory tools and games such as sound cones, balls, and rounders which enable children to interact at a distance and also undertake individual exploration 3) Develop novel ways for children to interact socially with the children themselves. In other words, co-design solutions with the children and their teachers.

It's time for the design and research community to take action and support the government in creating tangible and clear guidelines for outdoor play for teachers and children alike. Simply using chalk or a semi-permanent marker to draw tangential circles, 2 m apart instead of squares perhaps would improve how children react to these requirements. This morning I came up with two ideas shown below, but I am sure there are much better solutions that can be developed and integrated into schools.

Lastly, in my opinion, teachers and other stakeholders who frequently work with children should be engaged when producing design guidelines and/or solutions for children to play in the playground while maintaining social distancing measures. It is important that effective and perhaps even playful solutions are avaliable, if not, perhaps it would be wiser not to subject children to these conditions at all.

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