Lawson Foundation gives Calgary $300K to make playgrounds riskier

A Canadian not-for-profit is funding several child development projects in the city that will encourage kids to play more freely outside.

Not-for-profit promotes unstructured outdoor play for child development

The Lawson Foundation is funding projects across Canada to encourage kids to play with more freedom outside. (CBC)

A Canadian not-for-profit is sinking $2.7 million in cities across the country in an attempt to get kids today to play the way their grandparents did.

"The tendency may be to sit at home and watch TV or play on a screen. And that doesn't have the same development benefits that outdoor play does," said Christine Alden with the Lawson Foundation.

Calgary is getting a piece of the pie — to the tune of more than $312,000. The grants will go towards two projects to make city playgrounds more risky and unstructured.

Play Ambassadors

In 2013, the northeast Calgary not-for-profit recreation facility Vivo launched a Play Ambassadors program to encourage unstructured play within its walls.

Alden says play ambassadors are modelled from the playworker movement in the UK.

"A professional who is trained to essentially facilitate and encourage children's play without dictating what they're doing and how they're doing it."

The Glenora Child Care Society in Edmonton also received a grant from the Lawson Foundation to get kids to play outside more in the winter. (CBC)

The Lawson Foundation has earmarked $152,000 to train more play ambassadors and plant them in playgrounds around the city.

They'll bring with them cardboard boxes, tubes, duct tape, skipping ropes and balls.

"And then kids would take them and go with them," said Alden.

"Because what I think what we've underestimated in children is their ability to actually play on their own and decide what to do. When they have open-ended materials they make those choices and they delve into their own play."

Develop a Play Charter

Alden says the City of Calgary is already taking steps to foster more outdoor play in the community.

Along with hosting the 2017 International Play Association Conference, Alden says the city is working with more than 20 children's organizations to develop a "Play Charter" for Calgary.

"A municipal collective commitment to sign on to support unstructured and risk play and they're also going to look at a whole different range of ways they can put unstructured play throughout the existing parks and recreation programs that they have," she said.

The Lawson Foundation has committed $160,000 to that initiative which includes building an outdoor adventure playground in Calgary.

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