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Reclaiming Outdoor Space for the Digital Generation

By Helle Burlingame, Cand Psych, Director, KOMPAN Institute, NA

Boys are figuring out and choosing among games on the game controller, putting a strategy in place and executing it. Communication between the players is paramount.

With the stock markets crashing, once established financial institutions declaring bankruptcy, and the marketplace in turmoil, it may seem like terrible timing to talk about innovation in playground designs. Then again, innovative solutions in all areas of life become more important than ever when combating changes in lifestyle and the marketplace. Lack of physical activity in children's lives needs to be addressed in new engaging ways.

At a recent seminar in Philadelphia, experts in play theory, play design and gaming research discussed the changing role of personal technology, space and community. These influences have become the inspiration for a new generation of electronic playground equipment called Icon. The design goal of Icon is to reclaim the outdoors for kids and especially to catch the attention of older school-age kids, also known as tweens and teens.

Instant messaging, cell phones and video games are full of nonstop action for kids today. These influences have become the inspiration for a new generation of electronic playground equipment.

The integration of challenging play designs with games adds a whole new dimension to outdoor play that will entice players outside and encourage them to become more physically active. Getting kids back to the playground is crucial for fitness and interaction.

Play is more fundamentally important for children than leisure activities for adults.

Physical activity is essential to the physical and mental health of young people.

The playground has plenty of appeal beyond the electronic games. It is up to the kids how to play.

Children become less physically active as they age. Boys are typically more active than girls throughout childhood and adolescence. Reversing this trend of inactivity requires many solutions, as well as environments and programs to reach more kids. Spending time with peers socializing is one of the main motivators for physical activity for tweens and teens. Emphasis needs to be placed on environments and programs for physical activity that they find worthwhile!

The tools of the electronic age provide a new context or common ground for people as a whole new way to meet and communicate. Instant messaging, cell phones and video games are full of nonstop action and kids today are at the forefront of these activities. Kids are multi-taskers and they have an unprecedented ability to pay attention to many things at the same time. A major source of practice is playing action video games--the games that we parents hate! These games require players to distribute attention across the screen and quickly detect and react to events. Sustained practice makes you better. The goal is to invent outdoor games that include the same cognitive and interactive challenges indoor games provide, with the added dimension of full body movements.

Jumping strengthens ankles, calves, thighs, gluts, helps balance and is considered a cardio exercise. A recent study says jumping also improves bone mass.2

Electronic playground design represents a new kind of mesmerizing play glue designed to be a relevant choice in today's play culture. Inspired by game research the games involve competition, cooperation, strategy, increasing levels of difficulty, choice in number of participants, entertainment, games upgrade, quality and safety.

The latest research in the world of videogames shows that the average game player is now 35 years old. A total of 97 percent of teens play video games regularly, with over half playing each day.

Girl stretching to reach a node, "catching her color," as part of an Icon game. "Mastery and devotion of tremendous effort is all part of the game," says Helle Burlingame, director, KOMPAN Institute, NA.

Fully 99 percent of boys play and 94 percent of girls play. The most interesting conclusion is that games are social, with 76 percent of teens playing games with others at least some of the time.1 The way we used to view videogames--being played by a lonely teenage boy alone in his room is not the case today.

It is time for us to consider how we can make the new technology work for us in parks and schoolyards. The goal being to bring kids outdoors and together in play.

Engaging kids on the playground can also include tapping into the creating side.
Photo: The Land Goup, Inc. Adventure Island Playground, Settler's Park, Meridian Idaho. Freenotes (pictured).


1. Teens, Video Games, and Civics. PEW/Internet, MacArthur Foundation, 2008.

2. Fuchs R, Bauer J, Snow C. Jumping improves hip and lumbar spine bone mass in prepubescent children: A randomized controlled trial. Bone Research Laboratory, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon.

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December 7, 2019, 3:38 am PDT

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