Children and young people know their own needs and are full of creativity and ideas. The challenge for adults is to welcome them into the planning process and to make sure that their input is given due consideration. It is the children in the area who will be using the playground, so it is vital to get their views of what is required, and where. Children who are out and about a lot often know more about their neighbourhood than older people do!
Asking questions like “what playground equipment would you like?” will get you only limited responses. It is perhaps more important to ask questions like “where do you play?” and “what do you do when you play?”, as these will stimulate more creative responses and lead to more imaginative play spaces. Taking children to playgrounds outside their area can also help to stimulate ideas. Ask about other needs and concerns, such as safety, traffic etc.
Involving children and teenagers at the planning and design stages helps to increase their sense of ownership of the play space and may reduce the risk of vandalism later on.
Including disabled children in consultation
Whether they are known to you or not, there are already disabled children and their families in your community. A lot of children and young people with disabilities are socially isolated. Many go to special schools or attend specialist services with a wide catchment area, so they may have few local friends. To get in touch with these children and to find out what they want and need you will have to harness the help and support of their parents and the specialist services. But make sure that you talk to the children directly.
Are your parents accurate judges of what you like to do with your time? It’s the same for disabled children! Ask them what would make the play area useable and fun. You may well discover that all children have very similar expectations for play.
If you are using practical methods of gathering children’s views, remember that not all children can see or speak clearly, and that some will need assistance to write or draw.
Want to know how to consult children effectively?
Here are a few ideas:
- Involve children from the start of the project. That way you should be able to avoid costly mistakes.
- Use a variety of approaches. Meetings are not very child-centred or interesting.
- Put aside the adults’ agenda and listen to what children say with as much openness as you can. Children are great at thinking outside the conventional box!
- Be creative. Use drama, stories, writing, drawing, models etc in your consultation with children. Ask the question: what would you like your play area to feel like?
- Visit other projects – such as community or disability service providers – who have expertise in working with disabled children. Talk to the children there, not just the workers! Bring local children with you when you go to visit other playgrounds or projects.
- Children need quick results so they can see and experience the effects of their involvement. Always give children feedback and let them know what has happened about their ideas.
- Avoid raising unrealistic expectations.
Want to use a creative way of harnessing children’s views?
One way to do it is to use Playing for Real. This involves producing a table-top model of the area, preferably made by children. It doesn’t have to be 100% accurate. It can be made from cardboard and cornflake packets coloured with paints or magic markers. The children write or illustrate their suggestions for the area on Post-Its and then stick them onto the relevant part of the model. The model can be put on display in an FRC/CDP or other suitable location, so that other children can comment on the suggestions or add their own. The exercise can also be done in a school. It is useful for involving children who may not be confident in expressing their views.
The Children’s Society in the UK has produced a CD-ROM called How to Ask Us, which focuses on consulting children with disabilities using a multi-media approach which allows children who cannot speak or write to express their views by presenting their messages using video, music, art, photography, animation, stories, interviews and discussion.
To find out more log onto www.the-childrens-society.org.uk