When I applied to be part of the Transatlantic Outreach Program Study Tour to Germany I had to craft a lesson based on a recent news article about some aspect of German life or culture. We had a handful to choose from and, of course, I chose the one on playgrounds in Germany. The article was from the New York Times and was entitled, “What Makes Berlin a Playground Paradise,” and focused on the 1,850 playgrounds in Berlin.
Some of the article talked about the difference between American and German playgrounds. In Germany playgrounds are built for children to get dirty, take risks, try new things, create, and explore. The article even says these playgrounds may be “a little bit scary” to American parents looking to protect their young ones. German parents seem to embrace these spaces as a tool to teach independence and encourage children to solve their own problems and make mistakes.
But, this type of playground design is beginning to take root in the United States as more and more playgrounds are being built to allow students to develop and learn while building independence. We have also seen a surge in or a return to play in the classroom. Check out Quinn Rollins’ book Play Like a Pirate.
Needless to say, I was pretty excited to see German playgrounds when I landed in Germany. I had my first opportunity in Hamburg when I saw a giant pirate ship looking playground, complete with trampolines, opportunities for water play, netting to climb through, balancing equipment, and comfortable spots to just bask in the sun.
The playground (or Spielplatz in German), sits along a boulevard running through Grasbrookpark. We were there on a weekday and it jam packed full of families and small children.
It was too much for some of us to resist (me included).
I didn’t just find play on that playground in Hamburg, however. Play was everywhere I looked in Germany.
From the tiles in the roadways and paths in Braunschweig designed with a jester’s hat that indicated the way to public play equipment…
To the ping pong tables, game rooms, and indoor playgrounds in Gymnasium schools (grades 5-12).
We even found a stand up teeter totter in the Felda train station.
German museums took interactivity and play to a whole new level. The Landes Museum in Braunschweig had one of the most phenomenal activity areas I have ever seen. Besides riding a horse through the museum (a stuffed one), I learned all about Martin Luther and the reformation with a moveable timeline, climbed a giant ship, and practiced printing with typesetting.
As I traveled through Germany it was quite clear where Germany stands on play and the inclusion of play in daily life. No one space was the same. Every playground and play area was unique and specific to its purpose and location.
Playing my way through Germany was the best way to travel through Germany.
My mind is spinning with ideas on how to incorporate this into the learning environments I work in and support.