Children's use of public spaces and the role of the adult -- A comparison of play ranging in the UK and the leikkipuisto (Play Parks) in Finland
Public play spaces and playworker models in the UK and Finland have similarities and differences according to several conceptual models
This article compares the opportunities for and support of children’s outdoor play in two countries -- the United Kingdom (UK) and Finland -- with special attention to the role of the adult. Both countries recognize children’s right to play and the need for space to play. Both countries also recognize the value of outdoor play for children’s personal and social development.
Opportunities for childhood play are sometimes assessed in relation to the affordances provided by the social and physical environment available for play. The discussion in this article takes this approach. The article references research outlining different dimensions of affordances, including (1) the Field of Free Action with unconstrained and unregulated access of affordances, (2) the Field of Promoted Action where certain affordances are made available and others denied, and (3) the Field of Constrained Action, which focuses on the social and cultural factors affecting children’s actualization of affordances. The authors use this third dimension, along with the theoretical framework of alternative hypothetical environments devised by Kyttä, to compare the role of play and playground in the UK and Finland.
The authors note that while children’s use of park and open spaces declined in the UK as a result of policy changes in the 1980s and 1990s, a similar decline did not occur in Finland. The leikkipuisto (play parks), offering a balance of manufactured and natural resources, have been popular in Finland for over 100 years. In addition to the vast range of affordances provided by the leikkipuisto, play is also supported by Ohjaaha (adults) who are qualified, trained and committed professionals funded by the state. The UK now has trained adults (Playworkers and Play Rangers) to support children’s outdoor play, but funding for such support is generally scarce. The adult role in both countries, however, share some commonalities. Both the Ohjaaha and Playworkers and Rangers promote children’s independence and determination; yet a culture of risk aversion in the UK tends to hinder the Play Rangers from actualizing all the affordances.
There are other differences, too, between the UK and Finland as these relate to play provisions. Children’s play in Finland is more integrated within the natural resources, allowing Finnish children to actualize natural affordances in a more independent way than can UK children. Leikkipuisto are centrally positioned within a neighborhood, giving children a choice of several within walking distance from their home. This is not the case in the UK. Additionally, the leikkipuisto are considered to be part of the education system in Finland, positioned within the Department of Early Education and Childcare. They are embedded in the communities within which they serve and valued as a common activity arena that engages with the community. Play Rangers in the UK are attempting to put in place some of these same factors, such as offering a structure to facilitate mobility and engaging with communities. They are also committed to providing a diverse range of affordances that can be perceived, utilized and even shaped by children.