Please Photograph Your Local Playground

As we gear up for Take feankiizzr
Our Children to the Park…And Let Them Walk Home by Themselves Day
, which is set for 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 9, I’m wondering if we could crowd-source a photo documentary. What I’m looking for is photos of playgrounds across the United States (and wherever else you readers are) on a non-rainy weekend day. Are our playgrounds brimming with kids or not?

Let’s find out!

If you could take a photo of your local playground and email it to me at [email protected], that would be great. Even better: Can you add this info?

Name of town, state and park. 

And, if you’d like to go even further:

1 – Is it normal for unsupervised kids to play at the local park?

2 – At what age?

3 – Any other comments about what you want in a playground, why your kids do or don’t play there, or anything else relevant!

THANK YOU! — L.

Are America's playgrounds empty or well used??

Are America’s playgrounds empty or well used?

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35 Responses to Please Photograph Your Local Playground

  1. Crystal May 1, 2015 at 9:29 am #

    Would you like to know about British parks, too?

  2. AmyO May 1, 2015 at 9:39 am #

    I’ll try to snap one this weekend, but the park we always go to is always brimming with kids… and their parents. Hovering everywhere. Following their 5 and 6 and even 7 year olds on the play structures. Catching them on the 3 ft high climbing wall. Scolding them for running and jumping.

  3. Tony May 1, 2015 at 10:16 am #

    Take a picture of children in a park? I might get arrested as a pedophile.

    OK, OK maybe I have my tongue in my cheek.

  4. Emily May 1, 2015 at 10:20 am #

    Lenore, I think this is a great idea, but it could get some people in trouble, and by “some people,” I mean men, and especially non-white men. I mean, I could probably get away with photographing kids playing in parks, without being called a “pervert,” because I’m female, but I really can’t abide the thought of, say, Warren being questioned by the police if he wanted to participate in this project as well. This goes especially for the playground that’s on the beach here–kids run back and forth from swimming to playing on the equipment, so it’s not unusual to see children on the monkey bars or the spinning cone thing in their bathing suits. It’s also probably the most popular playground in town, so if you wanted pictures of kids playing at the park, it’d be best to take them at THAT park. Maybe, just to avoid getting arrested, we could do photos of empty playgrounds today, and compare them with playgrounds of our youth, because the equipment has been “dumbed down” a LOT.

  5. Edward Hafner May 1, 2015 at 10:33 am #

    Added Info #4:

    If, after explaining what you are doing, ANYONE challenges you for taking that photo, include who it was and their reason!

    Also; get a seperate shot of any signage listing “rules” and what agency posted them. (If sign says “No Photos”, then of course just get pic of sign.)

  6. Michelle May 1, 2015 at 10:44 am #

    I think the men on this site are old enough and mature enough to decide for themselves whether photographing their local park would be risky, and if so, whether they are willing to take the risk. On the plus side, if there’s concern about photographing kids at the park, it means kids are at the park! Yay!

    I have a couple of parks near me, which I will happily photograph for you, Lenore! I’ll even use my good camera. 🙂

  7. Emily May 1, 2015 at 11:04 am #

    >>I think the men on this site are old enough and mature enough to decide for themselves whether photographing their local park would be risky, and if so, whether they are willing to take the risk.<<

    True, but I'm not sure that the police, CPS, and the sanctimommies that hover over their children at the park are old enough and mature enough to tell the difference between a man taking pictures of the park for a documentary, and a child predator perving on their precious snowflakes, because there isn't enough child pornography all over the Internet or anything like that.

  8. bob m May 1, 2015 at 11:30 am #

    One problem – as I see it – is that too many playgrounds look like the one pictured. All the equipment is geared toward an age group that probably is too young to be on their own.

    Where I live there are no parks in walking distance for older children. The closest park ONLY has equipment for the 7 and under set – nothing to challenge or engage older children.

    Even if my kids were in the 9+ age range they wouldn’t participate in this event because the parks are so BORING.

    There needs to be parks with space enough for playing ballgames or flipping a frisbee or just making up something on the fly.

    Too many parks have fields dedicated to organized sports teams only.

    Love the site and the “back to the future” thinking that how it once was can again be how it is.

    We just need to understand that older children need playgrounds that are challenging if we expect to see them going to parks.

  9. Janet C May 1, 2015 at 11:47 am #

    Create a hastag for the event and use it on whatever social media site you’re posting to such as Flickr, Instagram, FB, etc. Get enough participants and you can get it to trend on whichever site.

    I suggest #LetOurChildrenPlay

  10. Brooks May 1, 2015 at 11:51 am #

    Funny that you posted this today. Just this very morning I thought about taking a picture of the vacant sidewalks adjacent to my son’s middle school. Now I’m going to do just that on Monday. I’ll send it to you.

  11. caiti May 1, 2015 at 11:58 am #

    Omg, Lenore, I think you must be my soul mate. I’m a photographer and for the past six months I’ve been trying to come up with some sort of project using photos taken on playgrounds that would highlight the trend of kids never playing (unless you consider adult-organized activity “play”- I don’t). The best I could come up with was an empty swing, but that image has been practically co opted by the Stranger Danger set to evoke fear. But this is great! I’m super excited about it! I’ll also look through my archives if you would have any use for photos obviously taken in the fall.

  12. dancing on thin ice May 1, 2015 at 12:05 pm #

    Since these photos may be used in a later post, it may be an idea to provide some photographer’s rights guidelines if any children are shown.

  13. caiti May 1, 2015 at 12:13 pm #

    Photographers rights: https://www.aclu.org/know-your-rights-photographers

  14. BM May 1, 2015 at 12:55 pm #

    I’m in Toronto, Canada. Male, 40+. I took my 3 year old to the local park on Wednesday evening. It always has some kids in it at this time. I guess the weather was finally deemed ‘warm enough’ because wow, there were 30+ kids in the area. Some older ones were playing soccer, another mixed group of about 8 or so were playing cricket in the dead end road leading to the park. There were 15+ kids in the playground itself, similar to the stock photo of this article. Notably, most were there without parents. I’d say everyone under 6 had a parent, but above that they were there with either older siblings, or just older friends.
    One girl, about 8, really wanted help getting up to the height of the monkey bars to start climbing. My excuse at first was I was(legitimately) pushing my son on the swing away from the monkeybars. But when he wanted to climb too I didn’t have the excuse. So here I was, a guy in the park without a wife by my side, lifting up underaged girls so they can get to climb to ‘dangerous’ heights where their older friends were. I considered who would be taking note of me doing this. None of the adults (4 or so) were showing much interest beyond their children, and the older girls there didnt show any concern about me helping out like that.
    I’m proud to say that this isnt so unusual at all the parks within distance of my house – they are generally full of children playing outdoors, the age they are allowed to be there unattended is very low, and I only feel slightly paranoid about interacting with underaged children with no guardians nearby(and very proud that they seem to know the difference between stranger danger and asking an unknown adult for help).

  15. Emily May 1, 2015 at 1:02 pm #

    >>The best I could come up with was an empty swing, but that image has been practically co opted by the Stranger Danger set to evoke fear. But this is great! I’m super excited about it! I’ll also look through my archives if you would have any use for photos obviously taken in the fall.<<

    @Caiti–The swings are empty, because parents don't send their kids to the park anymore, because they're afraid of Stranger Danger.

  16. Emily May 1, 2015 at 1:33 pm #

    P.S., I have plans next Saturday, so would it be okay to take pictures on the Sunday instead?

  17. Emily T May 1, 2015 at 1:59 pm #

    It would be wonderful if people would also add their local playgrounds to the “Playground Finder” app so people traveling through or in a new town can find these playgrounds! It would be so helpful if there were more playgrounds listed, so that when we’re on a long trip we can always find a good place to stop and play for a bit.

  18. SanityAnyone? May 1, 2015 at 2:17 pm #

    Can we earn gold stars for candids of Moms yelling at their kids not to go UP the slide, not to touch dirt, or maybe for a photo of a baby in one of those giant grocery-cart-padded-seat thingies stuffed into a baby swing to protect it from germs? At our plastic park, the most fun the kids have is standing at the little window under the slide, scooping up mulch and dirt, and pretending they are selling ice cream.

  19. BL May 1, 2015 at 3:12 pm #

    “The swings are empty, because parents don’t send their kids to the park anymore, because they’re afraid of Stranger Danger.”

    These parents do know, I suppose, that they are strangers to the vast majority of us. And therefore dangerous?

  20. Vanessa May 1, 2015 at 3:53 pm #

    I’d love to know what factors make one playground packed and another one empty. When my daughter was playground age, there were two parks with playgrounds in our immediate neighborhood. One of them was always full of kids and parents, and the other one had nothing but the occasional dog walker or group of guys playing basketball. They had more or less equal equipment, shade, facilities etc., and neither of them was known for drugs or gangs (in fact, the more used one was the one that had had an actual real-life incident where someone spread razor blades and broken glass on the slides and climbing platforms) so I could never figure out what the difference was.

  21. sigh May 1, 2015 at 6:17 pm #

    I was back in my old ‘hood in Ohio a couple of years ago and spotted a playground that was a couple of blocks from my house growing up. Had it always been there? I can’t imagine it was, or we would have played there. Wouldn’t we?

    For us, playtime involved the undeveloped wooded area behind our houses, the creek behind my friend’s house, and the sidewalks up and down our street. And the driveways.

    And in front of the TVs. Until the moms yelled at us to go outside because it was a beautiful day.

  22. vallori May 1, 2015 at 7:05 pm #

    I’m learning more and more that there is just about as much fear of getting in trouble as there is of people preying on kids.
    We can’t let fear control our lives, and we need to speak up against those who are trying to make us.

    One way to do that is to SPEAK TO EACH OTHER.
    Call the police and ask if there are laws against taking pics of the park, even if there are kids in it.

    Tell any parents that are there why you are taking the pic and ask if it is ok if their kid ends up in the pic.
    Heck, ask the kids if their parents aren’t there.
    Give the parents/kids you email address so they can reach you if they have a problem with it.
    Write down the link to this post for them, too.

    Anyway,
    I’ll get pictures of my nearby parks!

  23. Carolyn May 1, 2015 at 8:58 pm #

    I drove by the park in my neighborhood today around 5:30. There were at least 12 kids there and not a parent in sight. The kids looked like they were about 6-12 years old. So much fun!

  24. J.T. Wenting May 2, 2015 at 3:26 am #

    “One problem – as I see it – is that too many playgrounds look like the one pictured. All the equipment is geared toward an age group that probably is too young to be on their own.

    Where I live there are no parks in walking distance for older children. The closest park ONLY has equipment for the 7 and under set – nothing to challenge or engage older children.

    Even if my kids were in the 9+ age range they wouldn’t participate in this event because the parks are so BORING.”

    And after they make sure the park is “safe” by removing anything that could pose any risk of a bruise, so putting in stuff for very small children only, they post signs saying that it’s off limits for any child younger than 10 or older than 14 (because after that they just become riotous boozing and drug sniffing teens that have to be kept away from children).

  25. JP Merzetti May 2, 2015 at 12:03 pm #

    Dieppe park is the one giant park close to where I live.
    However, it is an organized sports facility. A beautiful baseball field is locked, when not being formally used, as is the hockey rink (roller bladed in warm weather.) The only thing open to all is the soccer pitch. Over in one tiny corner is the typical plastic tot play area.

    As to being the wrong gender to be even living and breathing within a mile of any child not related……I suppose one could argue the esthetics of the photographic eye of a male perspective. However, there is an easy enough way around that. Use a wide angle and stand back. It shows the whole park and how populated it is.

    When I was in my early twenties, and lived in Montreal…..I used to walk down into St. Henri and photograph children, all the time. Then, it happened to be Canada’s worst urban slum. Kids were on the street constantly, and they loved being photographed. They also wanted to learn about photography. So I taught them that, and they taught me French. (They learned far quicker than I did!)
    I remember spotting grandmothers peeking from behind curtains. But each time I showed up, the glowers and frowns grew less. Why?
    Familiarity was part of it. But the why of it was this. They just watched me with the kids. The kids were having a ball……puttin’ on the style, posing like celebrities. Clustered around like students, learning something. Scolding like teachers, when my tongue couldn’t wrap around their language.
    What actually inspired me to do this was the Family of Man collection – especially the one that was dedicated to children, all over the world.
    I happened to have the free use of a good camera, and a darkroom at the time – so it became a hobby.

    The legalities, concerns, waivers and negotiations that would be needed to attempt this now…….makes it a thing of the past. Children are one of the most photogenic things on this planet……yet are rarely photgraphed in a simple, natural and candid way – by professionals who know how to turn it into art.

    As to park use. I already know how parks are used. They’re not. Small tots accompanied by adults. It always reminds me of people taking their dogs for a walk. By the time kids reach the age of about 7……they’re just not there.
    The only exception to this seems to be winter time. At lunchtime, and after school…..the giant snowbanks made from shovelling off the hockey rink – are swarming with kids, of all ages. No adults in sight. The kids come from all the schools around, and make a beeline for those snowbanks. It’s a winter thing.

    Back to the Montreal grandmothers: Remember Jane Jacobs’ “Eyes on the Street?”
    Those grandmothers were doing their job. I was vetted by the kids themselves. I’m sure questions were asked. The kids were street smart and savvy. They were no fools. (Neither were the grandmothers.) A natural order of things. I became gradually, just the photographer from away. Showing up on Saturday mornings with my cup of take-out coffee, and my gear. I wouldn’t be surprised if quite a few of those ramshackle houses they lived in had fridges adorned with the prints I left behind.

  26. Tsu Dho Nimh May 2, 2015 at 1:31 pm #

    @Dancing “Since these photos may be used in a later post, it may be an idea to provide some photographer’s rights guidelines if any children are shown.”

    There is NO need to get any model release if the photos are used as news or commentary or educational purposes.

  27. Reader May 2, 2015 at 6:34 pm #

    http://www.essentialkids.com.au/older-kids/development-for-older-kids/how-my-sons-encounter-with-a-weird-man-forced-me-to-override-my-maternal-fears-20150428-1muwyh.html

    Awesome story from an Australian website – why a woman let her child walk to school… even though the day before, a man had approached him and tried to get him to come into his car!

  28. Papilio May 3, 2015 at 9:46 am #

    Aargh, I totally forgot and it was lovely weather yesterday! ~55F and sunny. (All rain now.)
    Well. I did go for a few groceries at around 19:00 or so, and remember seeing several (little) groups of kids playing on the local grass fields (there’s one next to every apartment building in this neighborhood… So I don’t know if their parents are watching from the balcony or not), on a wide sidewalk, and on the actual street (three kids, looked 7-ish IIRC).
    Does that count? :-/

  29. Becky May 3, 2015 at 10:28 pm #

    I’m very often “following my daughter around” on a playground, but not for her safety, but because I came there to play with her, and I’d be bored if I just had to stand and watch her play. And I want the exercise, too. So, not all following moms are helicopters, but I guess it’s easy to tell which ones are. But when it does get crowded, I do stand back. I just can’t have fun when I feel i’m in the way of the kids. Luckily, we have many playgrounds that get very little traffic–especially at the times we go–during school, in the winter. We also have a ton of playgrounds around, so any one won’t get too much traffic. Rare to see kids there on their own, except on the basketball courts.

  30. nicole Gainey May 3, 2015 at 10:37 pm #

    I would love to do this but I am scared I would be arrested again, but I definitely will go take pictures and send, I can almost bet there won’t be any kids without parents, everytime I pass the park now it’s full of cars, so that tells me the parents are with their children more since my arrest in my town, and when I take my son up there now due to not being able to just let him go it is full of parents, & it amazes me how they hover over their kids and any little thing that happens the say something instead of letting the kids work things out themselves.

  31. KT May 4, 2015 at 6:48 am #

    The playground closest to our home is too far away and across an extremely busy road (with no crosswalks) to allow our oldest (a 4 year old) to walk there on her own. We do take the kids over there and the playground is very well-used. It has a toddler playground and a “boundless” playground that’s suitable for use by children with disabilities. There’s a splash pad that’s pretty fun. The problem is that there’s little there for kids who are older than maybe 9 or 10 years old. The softball and baseball fields are always occupied by organized sports teams after school and on weekends, so kids can’t play impromptu games. The basketball courts are monopolized by teens and young adults.

    Generally parents tend to stay close to kids under 4ish, and bring folding chairs to sit on the periphery once they’re older. We live in a very middle and working class town and I’ve found that parents seem to free range a bit more than they do in more affluent areas nearby – I don’t know if it’s intentional or just a cultural difference. At the same time, our city is one where a parent was arrested for running into a store and leaving an unattended tween in a car for five minutes, so there’s a legitimate concern that free range parenting could invite police or CPS involvement.

  32. Thea May 4, 2015 at 10:38 am #

    This is slightly related but does anyone know of any company that would make “FRK approved” backyard swingsets/playsets? I’ve got a 1.5 yr old and am starting to look for something but don’t want the same old stuff as the rest of the neighbors. Any advice? Located in Maryland, btw.

  33. Lisa May 5, 2015 at 4:20 am #

    We are Americans living in Sweden and Swedes seem to have perfected Free Range parenting at its finest. There is a law that states that playgrounds must be within 500m of x number of children’s homes so there are multiple neighborhood playgrounds within walking distance. Our closest playground is not quite viewable from our kitchen window but I can open the window and shout to our 4 year old son when it is time to come in. Swedish children age 3.5 years and up are mostly playing outside unsupervised in our neighborhood. They are never alone but are generally surrounded by other siblings/friends utilizing an informal Buddy System.

  34. Emily May 5, 2015 at 12:37 pm #

    >>This is slightly related but does anyone know of any company that would make “FRK approved” backyard swingsets/playsets? I’ve got a 1.5 yr old and am starting to look for something but don’t want the same old stuff as the rest of the neighbors. Any advice? Located in Maryland, btw.<<

    Thea, have you thought about simply hanging a board swing or a tire swing in a tree, and/or maybe building a playhouse or tree house from scratch for your child? I can't think of any companies that make "FRK approved" backyard playground equipment, because all of those products have to conform to increasingly strict safety standards. Some of the standards make sense, like anchoring swing sets into the ground so they don't tip over, or covering up sharp/pinching parts to prevent severed fingers, but with things moving towards "prevent every child, everywhere, from even getting scratched," it might be a better idea to just do it yourself.

  35. Emily May 5, 2015 at 12:43 pm #

    >>We are Americans living in Sweden and Swedes seem to have perfected Free Range parenting at its finest. There is a law that states that playgrounds must be within 500m of x number of children’s homes so there are multiple neighborhood playgrounds within walking distance.<<

    Lisa, that's a great idea, but it seems kind of hard to enforce, because sometimes single people and childless couples move into "family neighbourhoods," for whatever reason, and of course, kids grow up. So, given these inevitable fluctuations that happen over the years, those playgrounds are going to stand empty sometimes, as there'll be "in between years" after the neighbourhood kids outgrow them, but before they move back with kids of their own (or new people move in with kids of their own). Is there ever any grumbling about paying taxes to maintain lightly-used playgrounds during these "dry spells?"