What do children want from parks?


By - Tuesday 29th August, 2017

A consultation with schoolchildren finds Croydon’s parks to be appealing destinations that could use some improvement


Wandle Park, Waddon.
Photo by Ally McKinlay, used with permission.

One of the challenges for primary schools is how to incorporate the National Curriculum encouragement to include knowledge and inquiry about the local areas in which they are based. There are many ways in which this can be done including walkabouts, visiting local amenities, and having people come in to talk to them.

As a governor of Norbury Manor Primary School, I have been doing this through presentations and discussions on aspects of their history and other projects.

Last year I ran a consultation with Year 6 pupils on libraries for submission to the council. This July I ran one on parks, especially Norbury Park, given that it is one of the six chosen by the council for master planning future management and improvements.

‘Persuasive argument’ is part of the English programme of study

The pupils were asked to visit a park and complete a survey. In a classroom session I explained to them aspects of the history of parks and commons and the Norbury Park planning exercise. They then discussed the park in small groups and each pupil filled in a questionnaire with their views.

Discussing and sharing ideas is an important element in helping children to see the advantages of working together, to listen to and think about other people’s views, especially when they disagree. It helps them to think about something in depth and to develop the confidence to express their views both in discussion and in writing, and to develop as informed and questioning citizens.

It contributes to the development of ‘persuasive argument’ which is part of the English programme of study. Each class already debates concerns and issues about the school feeding views into the school council. They had a key role in influencing the choice of the new catering company which will provide school lunches with linked growing and healthy eating activities from next term. The school council also discussed the role of governors and recently asked some of us some very probing questions about our role and motivations and what improvements we wanted to see.

What emerged from the parks consultation?

10-11 year olds see parks primarily as providing space and equipment for play and physical activity, both organised and informal.

They visited a wide range of parks in Croydon, Lambeth, Merton, Southwark and Wandsworth.

Most went with members of their family. A few families also took a friend along. Some went with friends. Most walked to the park, suggesting that they lived nearby. Those who went to parks further away mainly went by car.

Each of the parks that they visited has a different combination of features and activities. Their recording of activities reflect those differences. The largest number indicated playing football, chatting with friends, playing on grass, using playground equipment, and family picnics. Other activities not on offer in most of the parks included water play/paddling, feeding ducks, crazy golf, and boating.

Those who indicated what they disliked cited the small size of some parks, lack of playground equipment especially for their age group, litter, dog mess, anti-social behaviour, adults hostile to children and annoying insects. Their suggested improvements and extra activities depended on the range on offer in the parks they visited.

Norbury Park

Most pupils used Norbury Park; mainly for football, some for basketball and the children’s playground. Playing, picnicking with family, chatting with friends and playing sports are important activities.

Because it comprises largely green areas between the pathways the park is seen as having a lot of space for games and sport, to have fun in and run around or ride bicycles in. The play area and the MUGA are popular.

The main criticism is the small range of equipment, which is not suitable for their age. The park can often be waterlogged because of poor drainage, resulting in muddy shoes and interfering with playing games. Some dislike the way that the grass is left to grow long, especially when it is wet. Other negative aspects include too few people using the park some of the time, litter, dog mess, and people smoking.

Their ideas for improvements are very wide ranging. They want to see more equipment suitable for their age, an outdoor gym, a football pitch with goal posts, a ban on smoking at the children’s playground, an area for exercising dogs, a paddling and swimming pool, better maintenance of equipment, better drainage, a toilet, a water fountain, fake grass in the existing MUGA, a second MUGA, a café, a gym, a zoo, a park keeper, more running and fitness activities, and organised games such as hockey, rounders, cricket, roller skating, cycling, tennis, netball, volley ball, rugby, athletics, and archery.

These suggestions mirrored those made in the parks survey. The survey suggestions also included a wish for more benches to sit on as part of chatting with friends, fishing, and a guide brochure for bigger parks about what is available.

Conclusion

The key issues for 10 to 11 year olds appear to be that parks should provide:

  1. a range of different activities which enable a wide range of informal and organised activities and games
  2. age relevant play equipment
  3. space for informal activities, games and picnics
  4. space to wander about in and chat with friends

Some of their ideas for improving Norbury Park are challenging, especially the proposals for additional buildings.

While planning improvements to parks need to include finding out the views of the usage made by and expectations of all different age groups, knowing the views of children is crucial. As they are the future users of parks as teenagers, and later on as parents, it is important that their needs and wishes are central to improvement programmes.

Note: my pamphlet The Future of Norbury Park is available by emailing .

Sean Creighton

Sean Creighton

A former employee of and freelance project worker with community and voluntary organisations, Sean is active with Croydon Assembly, and Love Norbury Residents Associations Joint Planning Committee. He is Governor of Norbury Manor Primary School and Chair of the Norbury Community Land Trust. He is a historian of Croydon and South-West London, and of British black, , social action and labour movement history. He co-ordinates the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Croydon Radical History Networks. He runs blog sites covering Croydon, Norbury and history events, issues and and news. He runs a small scale publishing imprint - History & Social Action Publications. He gives talks on a range of history topics and leads history walks.

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  • Robert Ward

    Thanks Sean. Creating parks where children and their parents want to go is crucial for local communities. It is the parks where this group is absent that rapidly go downhill, becoming the haunt of bored teenagers and worse who slowly destroy this valuable community asset.