When I was little, I loved to play. I loved sprinting back and forth through fields at my school, reaching out my hand as far as it could go; just so far that I could tag my friend ahead of me. Back then, when I was young (Alright, I’m still only seventeen), play was just pure euphoric fun. However recently, as I have taken Early Childhood Development at Palo Alto High School, I’ve started to understand the profound benefits of play. The act of play, in children, not only is fun but helps develop gross and fine motor skills and many cognitive skills, especially social intelligence.
It makes sense then, why a playground is such a smart investment for a community. A playground gives the children of a community an outlet, outside school, to have more play-based experiences. However, there is one pressing problem with regular playgrounds: they are not inclusive. Playgrounds, in the US, are specifically designed for certain age groups and abilities. In concept, this is a good idea: each child can have a somewhat tailored experience of play at a playground. In reality, however, this tailoring of play causes a lack of play between ages and abilities. As a result, children become segregated into their niches, which is extremely detrimental to a child’s social development. The Magical Bridge Playground does not do this, instead, this playground creates a space where cross-ability and cross-age play is encouraged, not only by the people at the playground but by the playground itself.
That goal, of creating an inclusive play space, was originally what motivated me to volunteer at Magical Bridge as a Kindness Ambassador. I wanted to help encourage and facilitate inclusive play. For my first volunteering session, I ran the Magical Bridge booth. This station allowed me to interact with community members, but also get a feel for the playground. Within the first thirty minutes of being there, I was sold on Magical Bridge. I noticed the care and thought that had been put into designing this space: the ground materials, access points, and different types of structures all encourage inclusivity. I saw parents talking, some even playing on the structures, generally enjoying themselves. Most importantly, I watched the kids experience the joy of play. In front of me, I saw the smile of a three-year-old boy, getting pushed around and around by two girls a couple of years older than him. To my right, I saw a wheelchair, with no one in it, next to the swings where a girl was soaring ever higher. Finally, from my left, a little boy quietly walked up to me, “um, excuse me, would you like to play tag?” looking up at me inquisitively. “Of course” I respond, elated. His eyes lit up, and we were off.
Why is an all-encompassing play space so important and so beneficial? Because who you play with at the playground is who you will be nice to at school. Inclusive play builds a deep understanding of others. It builds empathy between kids. This empathy builds kindness and trust, which leads to a stronger community.
To some, Magical Bridge’s motto, “All Ages. All Abilities. All Welcome.”, might sound strange for a playground. To me, after spending some eight months as a Kindness Ambassador for Magical Bridge, I cannot think of anything more appropriate. The Magical Bridge Playground is so much more than what one thinks of as typical for a playground. Magical Bridge is a mechanism designed to cultivate exponential community acceptance… and it works!
Written by Nathan Strope. Nathan is an incoming Senior at Palo Alto High School and part of the graduating class of 2020.
If you are a Bay Area teen and interested in joining the Magical Bridge Kindness Ambassador, click here.
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About Magical Bridge Foundation and Magical Bridge Playgrounds