Playgrounds for kids in Hanoi
The Goethe Institute Vietnam, in cooperation with the Institut Français Hanoi and the Vietnam non-profit Think Playground, is running a publicity campaign to advocate for more public playground spaces.
The project is funded by the Franco-German Cultural Fund and supported by Ford. Stuttgart-based play-and-learn designer Bianca Elgas joined us in Hanoi for a panel discussion. Her German employer, the non-profit KuKuk Kultur recently deployed her to Nigeria, where worked with children and teenagers and a team of volunteers from Germany to design and build a playground for children of all abilities.
Interview with Bianca Elgas, KuKuK StuttgartYou were invited to Vietnam to join a public discussion about the value of playing for learning. What is the core message at this event?
Bianca Elgas: Parents worry that their children do not learn enough and get left behind in our modern performance-driven society. This is why children pressured to learn at an ever younger age. Time for free play is falling by the wayside. But even neuroscience tells us that play is the key to the world for children. By playing, they absorb everything that surrounds them, which helps them understand their world. Especially during the preschool years, it is eminently important to give children ample unstructured time to play. They get to determine what they want to learn at any given moment, and then, they are highly motivated to learn.
One Saturday, 100 participants attended the event. Five television stations joined us. What do you think stirred this keen public and media interest?
Bianca Elgas: I think there are several reasons why people are eager to hear more about the topic of play as a catalyst for development. One aspect is Hanoi´s rapid pace of urbanization. There are hardly any unencumbered public spaces. You step out of your home and right into dense urban traffic. Safe free play is not possible in this kind of environment. Parents are helplessly watching this development.
Another factor might be a growing awareness that children are spending too much time in front of screens and are hardly able to occupy themselves in any other way.
You had two days to familiarize yourself with Think Playground, the Vietnamese organizer of this initiative. What are your impressions?
Bianca Elgas: I work for KuKuk Kultur because I care deeply about creating as many safe play places for children as possible. That is why I am very excited that there are many similar organizations around the world, because together, we can do so much more for the children! I really like the team of Think Playground. They think and act at the same time: On the ground level, they have a workshop where ten craftsmen are welding, painting, assembling, building… and upstairs, they design playgrounds and do all the planning and administrative work.
The team is highly motivated and open-minded. Since its formation four years ago, it has been constantly evolving, both on its own merit as well as due to great networking. Right now, they focus on developing and introducing safety standards for playground facilities.
Today, we follow up on Saturday’s panel discussion with some hands-on activities. Think Playground was able to stake out a pretty large 200 sq.m. play zone in the pedestrian zone on Lake Hoan Kiem. It is scattered with objects that invite children to play. What are these items, and how did they get there?
Bianca Elgas: At the free-play event on Sunday, we will use proven materials as well as random objects we found: car tires, pieces of wood, various pipes, empty cans, ropes, cardboard boxes, etc. Most of the materials are recycled and thus free of charge. For the children’s safety, we make sure that the objects are not too heavy, have no sharp edges or splinters, and are not easy to break. Prior to the event, we carefully checked all the materials for damage and cleaned them. 30 young volunteers will be serving as tutors. On Sunday, the motto is ‘let`s play’: the kids can build towers and huts, launch moon rockets and make tipis, do whatever they want and go wherever their imagination leads them. They are the true experts at this event. We don`t know what exactly is going to happen and how the locals will respond, because this is a pilot project/experiment and we are excited to see how it will play out!
Tomorrow you are heading back to Germany. Will you follow up on the dialog with your Vietnamese partners?
Bianca Elgas: For Think Playground and KuKuk Kultur, this event was a kick-off for further collaboration. We will meet again in October to elaborate a joint concept for a publicly accessible playground in Hanoi. The space is already secured. We will also continue to share expertise.
Bianca Elgasborn in 1991.
Bianca Elgas graduated 2016 in „Design of Playing and Learning“ at University of Art and Design Halle, Saale. Since then she’s building playgrounds for children in need or difficult situations worldwide with the German NGO KuKuk Kultur. The approach is always participatory as KuKuk Kultur doesn’t just build for but with local people. Bianca’s field of interest focuses on the value of play for the healthy development of the child.