More imaginative Hawaii playgrounds

Kamakana Playground and the Harold H. Higashihara Park in Kona on the Big Island has been rated as one of America’s coolest playgrounds by Yahoo! Shine blogger Sarah Weir, and one of the world’s best parks and playgrounds by writer Jennifer Margulis.

“Built into a verdant hillside with a spectacular view and plenty of shade, the park was designed with both creative and historical play in mind. There are Hawaii-specific play structures like a double-hulled Polynesian canoe and a Kona Sugar Co. 1897 model train, as well as chess tables, a horseshoe ring toss, a lifesized whale, a twirl machine, a baseball diamond, basketball and tennis courts, and covered picnic tables,” Margulis enthuses.

At Aikahi Elementary School, the playground has “a volcano slide, turtle tunnel, treehouse, boat deck that sways back and forth, rope nets and a cool “dragon king” wall bordering the play area. Tropical fish, dolphins, a gecko, a hammerhead shark and a sea horse adorn the structures, and student-decorated tilework gives the playground a nice local touch,” praises Honolulu Star-Advertiser reporter Nina Wu.

I’ve never been to these playgrounds, but I would love to take my 6-year old son there – and I want one for my neighborhood.

So what is stopping us? Why are so many of Hawaii’s public playgrounds generic, bland (despite the bright colors), and cookie-cutter? And what can we do to make our playgrounds our own?

Let’s start by changing our expectations for playgrounds.

Expect community involvement. Hawaii doesn’t have the money to build new playgrounds, and we can barely keep up with the maintenance and repairs of existing playgrounds. So communities like Aikahi, Ewa Beach, and Niu Valley have taken matters into their own hands with private fundraising, corporate donors, and community volunteers. Public schools like Koko Head Elementary have also started to take the lead on repairing their neighborhood playgrounds.

* Don’t be limited by liability. When I was a kid, we had playgrounds on dirt and asphalt. Today, everyone worries about liability and lawsuits – meaning we have playgrounds on expensive, padded surfaces that chip and crack. There are fewer swings, no playhouses, no tether ball. The “Public Playground Safety Handbook” says nothing about having fun, inspiring kids’ imaginations, or fitting in with the community. But let’s not be limited by lawsuit threats and liability fears.

* Set kids’ imaginations free. Most of Hawaii’s playgrounds have the same basic layout – with slides, a bridge, monkey bars, and rung ladders. We need playgrounds that reflect the community and Hawaii’s culture, such as turtles, whales, volcanoes, outrigger canoes, hula, surfboards, ahupua‘a. We need local artwork in picnic areas and walls.

* Grow natural playgrounds. We could create natural playgrounds to reflect Hawaii’s natural beauty. We could turn our playgrounds into places of natural beauty with playhouses made of woven branches or slides made of logs; log stepping stones and walking trails; or outdoor classrooms with native plants, music walls, or reading nooks. At Grace Cooperative Preschool in Walnut Creek, California there is nothing plastic about their playground; instead, there is a hillside slide, a three-tiered oak log sluiceway with a rope pulley system, a cargo net reading area, a thunder wall drum, and a “clatter wall” with different musical instruments.

What are your favorite Hawaii playgrounds? Do they spark your imagination? How can we make our playgrounds better?

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One Comment on “More imaginative Hawaii playgrounds”

  1. 7/30/13 Update
    Congratulations to the Niu Valley residents, which raised more $77,000 over the past 8 years. The funds will be donated to the city of Honolulu to build a community playground. Reported on the KHON2 News website 7/15/13.

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