Ottawa

Out of bounds since March, playgrounds finally reopen

As of this morning, play structures, swings, slides and exercise equipment in city parks are no longer out of bounds — and that's a good thing, according to one children's health advocate.

Outdoor equipment benefits children's physical, mental health, advocate says

The City of Ottawa closed playgrounds at the end of March, cordoning many off with yellow caution tape. They reopen Friday. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

As of this morning, play structures, swings, slides and exercise equipment in city parks are no longer out of bounds — and that's a good thing, according to one children's health advocate.

The equipment was declared off limits, and in many cases cordoned off with yellow caution tape, at the end of March amid restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19.

Since then, sports fields, public benches and other park amenities have gradually reopened, but the playground equipment remained under lockdown — until now.

When children are outdoors and when they're playing, it gives them a sense of agency, a sense of control.- Louise de Lannoy, CHEO Research Institute

The development is welcome news to Louise de Lannoy of the CHEO Research Institute, who said the equipment benefits both the physical and mental well-being of children, especially in times like these.

"[Children] had to deal with a lot of changes [during the pandemic] that they may or may not understand, and play is important for them to process what's going on right now," de Lannoy said.

Sedentary habits

De Lannoy is also a project manager with Outdoor Play Canada, an advocacy group that works to promote and protect access to play in nature and the outdoors. 

In April, a month into the lockdown, the group, along with ParticipACTION, was involved in a survey that looked at whether Canadian kids and youth were getting enough physical activity.

It found less than three per cent of Canadian children ages five to 17 were meeting recommended guidelines for physical activity and sleep.

"What we saw was that children were spending a lot more time on screens, they were spending much less time outdoors," de Lannoy said. "So really anything to support them not staying inside, not spending an excessive amount of time on screens, I think is important for both their mental and physical health."

She said activities as simple as swinging on a swing or climbing a jungle gym can benefit children in unseen ways.

"When children are outdoors and when they're playing, it gives them a sense of agency, a sense of control. It's also important in times of stress and adversity to help them process their own emotional responses to adversity."

WATCH: The pitch for playgrounds

Louise de Lannoy, project manager for Outdoor Play Canada, says children have been spending more time on screens during the pandemic. 0:49

Anyone using the park equipment is still asked to practise physical distancing, avoid touching their face and wash their hands before and after, according to a statement from the City of Ottawa.

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