By David Kravetz
Have you ever pondered how to elicit creativity in children without prodding them? How about the best way to promote social interchange among a variety of age groups? Perhaps one of the best places to do this is in a “creative playground” type of atmosphere.
There are “playgrounds” and then there are “PLAYgrounds.” And there is a huge difference between the two.
As young adults in the 1980s and 90s, my wife and I raised five children. We moved to Kentucky in 1993 and soon discovered the wonderful parks in Lexington, most especially Shillito Park and Jacobson Park. When we arrived here we had children ages 4 to 13. Going to a park and a playground such as the spacious, creative, natural looking playgrounds these parks had and currently have, we found our children to thoroughly enjoy these. And, as parents, we did as well.
These playgrounds were built by volunteers in 1993 and have stood the test of time. Naturally, they have required some maintenance, but overall, these have been the most enjoyable facilities for children in the entire city. Indeed, many parents drive across town to take their children to them, just as we did in the 1990s.
As our children got older, we frequented these parks less and less as they were involved in other school events and eventually graduated, left home, got married and started their own families.
Now we are grandparents of nine wonderful, young and energetic children. As we did in the 1990s, some of our children who still reside in Lexington are taking our second generation of kids to the same set of parks, most specifically Jacobson Park, as they live closer to that park. And on frequent occasions my wife and I take our grandchildren to the playgrounds on our own. It is a joy to watch them crawl through the tunnels, use the cubbyholes in creative manners, and climb up on the tall wooden structures as if they were superheros. There are not many things better in life than seeing smiling joyful and happy children being creative on their own without any prodding from their parents or grandparents.
A few weeks ago, I became aware of plans by the city of Lexington to consider demolishing the current playground structure at Jacobson Park and then plans to replace it with a “more modern and safer structure.” This was very disconcerting to me because I have seen a distinct difference between the Jacobson playground and other playgrounds in the city. I have also personally seen the distinct differences in how my grandchildren utilize them.
As a Lexington resident for nearly 20 years, I have been to most of the parks in the city. In the past five or six years I have taken my grandchildren to many of these playgrounds. I have learned that children use these “playgrounds” in many different ways. For children, true play entails learning, creativity, making friends. The playgrounds conducive to this environment keep their attention for a long time. Kids want to make forts and when the playground presents an opportunity for a ready-made fort, children are enthralled! And the playground at Jacobson Park absolutely provides this kind of an opportunity for children.
In my quest to understand more about the issue, I recently became acquainted with Rachel Carpenter of Lexington. She has been a driving force in the promotion to save the Jacobson Park playground. She and a few others have formed a “Save Jacobson Park Playground!” Facebook group and Ms. Carpenter has also forged forward with a petition to save the park (see https://www.change.org/petitions/lfucg-save-the-jacobson-park-playground).
Through the course of our discussion, she informed me in detail about the situation with the parks and also pointed out that there are three different kinds of playgrounds in the Lexington area.
• Neighborhood Playground: These playgrounds are typically small with a few structures and really do not provide many opportunities for creativity. They typically contain a swing set and a plastic slide and a few other items.
• Community Playground: Currently, Lexington really only has one of these and it is located at Woodland Park near downtown. This playground has been segregated into three different sections to accommodate different age groups of children, thus splitting up the interchange among kids. I have taken my grandchildren to this playground on a few occasions, but they don’t really get into it. After about 20 or 30 minutes, their interest wanes and they start begging for me to go elsewhere. I found this to be very insightful.
• Destination Playground: These are the big spacious playgrounds most specifically those in Shillito and Jacobson Parks. I understand there is also one at Masterson Station which is a more modern playground facility, though I’ve never been to that one. What I do know, however, is that when the grandchildren are playing on the playground at Jacobson Park, we have to beg them to leave. It’s expansive, it has numerous cubbyholes and places to play in, to hide and to climb. It is shaded, it is natural and the kids love it. I have watched my grandchildren play in one of the cubbyholes and use it as a “drive-through” and other friends and kids come through and “order” from the drive-through. I have witnessed my little three-year-old granddaughter standing on one of the ramps acting out the role of the ice queen from ‘Frozen” and singing “Let It Go” as she saw imaginary steps created to lead to her imaginary castle. To some children this becomes a castle. It becomes a dream world for them.
I have taken my grandchildren to these playgrounds dozens of times over the last five or six years. Almost always, the playground is filled with others playing; not only young children but junior high children and high school kids also play among the young children. Even adults get into the act. They all interact with each other, and in many cases don’t even know each other, but on the playground they are all one community.
Is this something we really want to take away from them? Do we really want to create barriers to their creativity? Do we want to take away the dream worlds that these kind of “creative playgrounds” can bring to them?
In this day and age of bureaucrats making “safety decisions” or accommodating the handicapped (which I am personally in favor of doing), they take away many of the characteristics of the “PLAYground” and leave only a blasé excuse of a playground. I join the ranks of thousands of other Lexington parents in the desire to “Save the Jacobson Park Playground.”
David Kravetz is a Lexington writer/photographer/web designer, a father of five and grandfather of nine, and has been married to his college sweetheart Julianne for over 35 years. He is an avid blogger and writes a travel blog focused on the back roads of America and the unique, the quirky, the offbeat and the wonderful of this country (lessbeatenpaths.com). He has taken hundreds of photos at Jacobson Park and throughout the Lexington area over the years.