Note from Michele: Thanks to Contributor, Melynda, for sharing her playground experiences while traveling in Europe for a year with her family. She’s a long-time #playoutdoors blogger and freelance writer friend who even joined me to co-author our Yellowstone & Grand Teton Family Trip e-Guide. She sent me an unexpected text one day: “I’m at an awesome adventure park in Scotland!” I somehow convinced her to tell us all about it . . .
Perhaps the very existence of youth is due in part to the necessity for play.” -Karl Groos, 1898
My family of four –mom, dad, and 8 and 10-year-old boys, are traveling through Europe for a year. As unschoolers, and now worldschoolers, we are big believers in unstructured time to climb, run, jump, and play however the kids want. We search out playgrounds. Although, we have been to many museums, jumped in the ocean, toured more castles than necessary, and explored European cities — as parents to two high-energy kids — we know that playground time takes the edge off and makes the rest of our day less chaotic.
One day in Scotland, our family started the day exploring Linlithgow Palace learning about the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots and the Stewart kings. Next we tried to understand the technology behind the Falkirk Wheel – a see-saw-like wheel that lifts boats 35 meters from a lower canal to a higher canal. That was followed by a viewing of largest equine statues in the world. Watch the video!
We learned so much and were ready to decompress when we stumbled on an adventure playground. The kids were thrilled to swing on logs, slip down a ridiculously long slide, and spider across nets stretched between posts. They got to blow of some steam and let their subconscious sort through all the information they acquired that day.
When you think about traveling with your family, what comes to mind? Visiting museums? Playing on the beach? Exploring castles? City tours? We started at home in Montana, flew to Italy, and move around once a month to a new location (Croatia, Slovenia, England, Scotland, & France, so far).
On Hvar, a Croatian island, we were a couple kilometers from a small playground. While the boys loved playing on the rocks along the Adriatic shore and chasing Pokémon in the Old City, they were drawn to the swinging tires and seesaws of the oceanside play park.
In Slovenia, Anders and I hiked through a large park in the middle of the capital city, Ljubljana. Near the top of a hill, a hard-core physical fitness course spread out. Not quite a playground, but treated as one by us, we lifted and threw logs. We swung from monkey bars and climbed over raised logs.
In Scotland, we stayed just a five-minute walk from a fort-like play area. The kids could walk there themselves and play with the local kids and other visitors. They didn’t always use the equipment, sometimes they preferred running through the woodland amidst the budding trees and daffodils, but having an area designated as just for kids, made them feel comfortable and welcome.
We all know the benefits of play: it keeps kids fit and healthy, builds confidence and self-esteem, is emotionally therapeutic, provides a social network, and so much more. There are even cognitive benefits. Play is essential for a child’s brain development. Plus, it’s really fun!
As we enter the second half of our year abroad, we are finding out more and more that playgrounds need to be on our travel itinerary. Playgrounds, unstructured play time, and room to roam are just as important as all the cultural and historical places we visit.
Melynda, a.k.a. “TravelingMel,” is a family travel and recreation writer. Follow her family’s travels through Europe (for a year!) at TravelingMel.com or on YouTube which holds a whole library of their professionally-produced family travel videos! Photos courtesy of Melynda @travelingmelmt, and her husband, @travelingfilmmaker – follow them on Instagram.