Where did the game go?
The savings bank foundation
Graphic illustration of the project
Today's standardized playgrounds threaten free play. In collaboration with the Savings Bank Foundation, Halogen is trying to do something about it.

Every year, the Savings Bank Foundation awards several million kroner to local and national socially beneficial projects. Here you can get support for art and culture, sports and outdoor life - and places to play. Since its inception in 2002, the independent foundation has helped thousands of Norwegian children to have playgrounds in their local environment.

But, over time, the Savings Bank Foundation has noticed a pattern: the foundation wants to support applications for playgrounds that are good for children. Yet they continue to build playgrounds that are uniform and uninspiring. This limits children's opportunities for imaginative and varied play.

Male employee writes with dry erase marker on whiteboard in meeting room
Photo: Timothy Newman, Unsplash

Played in minutes

- Despite the fact that play is the world's most important form of learning, children's opportunities for free play are drowning in strict regulations, academic directions and commercial considerations, says Halogen designer Julie Marzano Frey. Together with the rest of the team, she will help the Savings Bank Foundation to bring free play back outdoors. 

There is a lot of knowledge about play and child development, but there are also many obstacles to changing the current culture of playground construction. There are established regulations, market forces, attitudes and habits - and some conflicting interests. What the Savings Bank Foundation wants to do first and foremost is to understand what a good playground is. The goal is then to create new guidelines for applicants based on this insight. Halogen is well on its way to creating this knowledge base, which stakeholders can agree is a starting point for change. Furthermore, hypotheses and concepts will be tested in the field. 

- "We have conducted an extensive literature study. In addition, we interviewed people in professional environments, both researchers in the field and those with practical experience," says Julie. 

One of the things that has emerged is that the standardized playgrounds quickly become boring. On average, children spend only six minutes on a slide tower. 

- "When you spend five years in kindergarten, it's sad how quickly the playgrounds are finished," says one of the informants Halogen spoke to. 

At the same time, children's leisure time is becoming more and more organized and adult-controlled. This leaves little room for the important free play.

Male employee writes with dry erase marker on whiteboard in meeting room
Part of developing is understanding your limitations and opportunities. Photo: Gunnar Bothner-By, Halogen

Afraid of risk 

Play is good for a child's development, both motor, mental and social, but there is a big difference between play that is adult-controlled and organized, and play that is free and exploratory. Only when children are allowed to decide for themselves how to play, do they see it as play. It is therefore important for children's access to play and socialization that they can move around freely without adults. 

A key concept in this context is risk. According to knowledge in the field, risky play is a natural and important part of growing up. It teaches children to know their own limits. Today's playgrounds are primarily designed with safety in mind. Not only does this make the playgrounds less attractive, but it also limits the opportunity for children to dare to learn about themselves. As one of the informants says: 

- A child is not an oil rig that should have a zero vision for risk

Therefore, one of the things Halogen and the Savings Bank Foundation will try to figure out is how to build playgrounds that support spontaneous and self-directed play that takes place in safe enough conditions.

From playground to outdoor space

A clear finding in the knowledge gathering is the importance of free play in nature. Unlike the standardized playground, nature does not contain an expectation of how play should take place. 

- The word playground is often associated with devices. We know that children spend more time playing outside the devices than inside them. Play takes place in many places, such as in nature, in the streets and on the way from A to B. That's why in this project we've moved away from talking about playgrounds to talking about outdoor spaces," says designer Julie. 

Large areas with loose objects, where children can choose what and how to play, stimulate more creativity than static materials with a function.

- This way of thinking is also more inclusive. When play is not defined, it allows for intergenerational play to a much greater extent than traditional playgrounds, which are often designed for one age group," says Julie. 

Now the work of putting the knowledge Halogen has gathered into practice begins. Both Halogen and the Savings Bank Foundation have great ambitions for Norwegian children's playful future. 

- Today, a child may have access to several playgrounds in their local area, but often they are all pretty much the same. We need to do something about that," says Julie.

Design Bar at Sentralen

Would you like to hear more views on the role of the playground in society, or do you have a lot of good ideas? Come to Designbar ar at Sentralen on January 31, 2024 at 18:00. We have invited experts and committed professionals to a playground debate! The event is free and open to all. 

Link tothe event on LinkedIn

Male employee writes with dry erase marker on whiteboard in meeting room

Male employee writes with dry erase marker on whiteboard in meeting room


Male employee writes with dry erase marker on whiteboard in meeting room
Male employee writes with dry erase marker on whiteboard in meeting room
Julie Marzano Frey
Would you like to know more? Contact us!
Julie Marzano Frey
+47 913 84 977julie.frey@halogen.no