Kentville Parks and Recreation on Taking Play Seriously

Editor’s note: This post was written for us by Julia Stephenson Kentville’s Active Living Community Coordinator. Find out more by visiting The Town of Kentville website.

Beginning in the fall of 2017, inspired by the national and global work on unstructured play for children, the Town of Kentville’s Parks and Recreation Department challenged ourselves to make play a priority.
Over the last two years the Kentville Plays initiative has motivated us to take play, and all its benefits, seriously.

We have made capital investments in infrastructure that supports play. The most significant playful update to our built environment has been the development of the Oakdene Park playground which includes natural and adventurous play features. The play space was designed with input from local grade four students and features the elements they dreamed up, including: double slides on a hill for racing, a sand pit and mud kitchen, lots of swings, two zip lines, a spider web, and a ‘kids only’ cave. It’s been incredible seeing and hearing about how the Oakdene play spaces are used. This playground is designed to let kids choose how they want to play, and we couldn’t be happier with the response from the community; as you can imagine the ziplines draw in not just the young ones but all who are young at heart.

We have also invested in Playboxes (unlocked metal jobsite boxes filled with toys and equipment) in three of our municipal parks. The Playboxes make existing playgrounds, courts and snowy park hills more playful spaces. Whether it’s grabbing a basketball to shoot some hoops, getting out a skipping rope or frisbee to play with, having a saucer to slide on, or having a ball for the kids to kick around or roll down the slide, the play possibilities are endless. We depend on our community to keep the Playboxes filled in between our own additions, and we are always happy to see when playful items are added to the boxes for our community to use.

In addition, we have a loose part shed that is shared between our primary through grade eight school and our Kentville Summer Day Camps. The loose parts are also a huge hit at our play events including our annual event in November, pop-up events (ex. cardboard box play, National Play Day trail play, etc.) and play stations at community events.

Taking play seriously also means incorporating elements of play into broader municipal planning. This year we have developed an Active Transportation Plan for our municipality that includes the lens of play. The ten-year plan will continue to challenge and inspire us to add playful elements to our built environment that help make walking and wheeling an easy and desirable choice for all who live and work in Kentville.

We’ve been learning lots in our work to make Kentville Canada’s most playful community. Some of our key learnings (so far!) have been:

  1. Investments in play matter. We see the difference in our community when we invest in play. We hear from our community about the impact that play spaces, Playboxes and play events are having.
  2. We are learning more about the conversations we need to have at a community level to make play more accessible and enticing to all. There’s certainly more work to do on this front as we engage not just parents, but the community at large about the value and importance of unstructured and adventurous play.
  3. There’s an appetite for play, and not just from the little ones. It’s been so much fun seeing folks of all ages play- whether its on the ziplines, with the Playboxes, or building cardboard robots at a play event.
  4. There’s lots more we can do on our quest to become a more playful community and we are excited to be taking on the challenge!

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