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Note: This is the second of three articles about play and playgrounds for seniors. Links to the series are at the end of this article


Our smile-less masked world is a sort of backdrop begging to be painted over with happy scenes.

With trepidation we’ve burst forth from our collective Covid-chrysalis to not go back from whence we came. Nature’s metaphor of metamorphosis serves as a guide.

We’re being called to establish what will become our new norm in ways that will serve to counterbalance certain devastating consequences that are unfolding around the globe.

There is no preexisting template. Our best possible future scenarios will, by necessity, be informed by creative problem-solving and audacious re-visioning.

We don’t need to completely reinvent the wheel. We’re wise to survey preexisting models proven successful in an easier time, and to explore how best they serve us going forward (or not).

In mere months we’ve witnessed a dramatic shift in our healthcare system with burgeoning telehealth platforms mitigating the need for in-person doctor visits.

In some areas, gyms hastily reopened only to re-close. Certain states’ mandates have yet to schedule the reopening of gyms, others are in the midst of re-welcoming their members. Still others, such as I’ve noticed in my area, have shuttered their doors entirely.

Gyms that will successfully manage reopening will do so with major changes: capping attendance at 25% capacity; require advance reservations to ensure limited class participants; 24-hour fitness clubs have reduced hours to allow time for enhanced cleaning; locker rooms and showers are closed; equipment will be spaced further apart, with some machines turned-off to prevent use. Whatever their reincarnation, gym workouts and exercise classes will bear little resemblance to their former selves. Workouts indoors rank high in risk of spreading the virus, unlike outdoor models.

There are school districts that previously offered fitness classes through adult education programs, often at considerable discount for we wrinkled and grey folk. At midsummer, most are still unsure of how, or if, to continue these offerings once so integral to our health.

As elders, we’re sagacious enough to explore the need for new prophylactic wellness models.

In this time rife with uncertainty, one coping mechanism is to draw inspiration through poetry.

Victorian poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote a declaration of love to her husband, Robert Browning in her seminal Sonnet 43, commonly known by its first line: “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.”

Piggybacking on her concept, here follows an enumeration of the case for elder playgrounds.

But first, a moment to articulate the value that Goric imparts to all playgrounds.

Socially-distanced design capabilities – Goric’s in-house, manufacturer affiliates, and landscape architecture partnerships provide recommendations and site-specific playground layouts to ensure equipment is placed at safe intervals.Playground equipment can still be conducive to social, appropriately distanced interaction by virtue of spacing. While that may mean fewer features in a limited-area, it affords communities and inhabitants the advantages of outdoor exercise.

Be your project a new playground, or reconfiguration of an existing playground, Goric is an industry leader in providing smart solutions integral to our pandemic and post-pandemic world.

Elder playgrounds enhance our physical and mental/social well-being. They represent an important public health resource – connecting users to nature, providing access to physical activities, and serving as a safe space for making social connections, albeit at a distance.

The concept of socializing at a distance is no longer foreign or radical. After concluding our winter and going through spring in isolation, summer has seen us intuitively step away from others whilst engaging. Our innate sensibilities of socializing have beautifully responded to the challenges at hand, with Goric a leader in taking playground design to the next level.

The need for elder playgrounds is evidenced in U.S Census Bureau data cited by the Urban Institute: “The number of Americans ages 65 and older will more than double over the next 40 years, reaching 80 million in 2040.”

Properly leveraged, whether as stand-alone community amenities, as expanded inter-generational playgrounds, or as designated marginal areas in parks – elder playgrounds offer movement options beyond senior-specific exercise equipment such as dance, Qi Gong, Tai Chi, yoga, light cardio workouts, and gentle strength training.

We can do well to borrow from Asian cultures where it is commonplace to see senior citizens comprising 50% or greater of those using playground or park resources vs. in America, where the median percentage of older adults in parks ranges from only 5% to a high of 15%.

Have “age-friendly cities” become a thing yet in your locale? Such initiatives are popular in Europe, and I’m hopeful will catch on here as the Baby Boomers age out. The concept is one that individuals can introduce to their city (or town) councils and planning boards. We can work from the bottom up to encourage development from the top down.

There’s an art to sharing innovative ideas when one focuses on outcomes and doesn’t attach to ownership, allowing officials at the helm to take credit for bringing an idea to fruition. That age-related endeavors are newsworthy from a public relations perspective should not be overlooked if you’re considering a proposal to your municipality. Another angle to spur the creation of elder playgrounds is the up-sell to grandparents. Many places have children’s playgrounds in dire need of repair and/or restoration. Converting those areas to intergenerational play programs offers amplified value.

Whether you’re climbing, pedaling, using the elliptical or walking a trail, the most immediate benefits of senior playgrounds are wellness related. The best installations help to improve balance and minimize the risk of falls, build muscle strength and tone, extend your range of motion, and improve your manual dexterity. To some extent, these gains have been documented: A 2004 study by Finland’s University of Lapland looked at a group of 40 seniors age 65 to 81 who had access to a senior playground. After three months of regular use, 90 minutes a week, the study found improvements in balance, speed and coordination. The seniors were more confident and moved faster and felt empowered to manage physical obstacles when they met them.

An ethereal dimension to consider beyond the obvious physical gains of elder playgrounds is that of play. Elder playgrounds embody words to live by “We’re never too old to play.” Play is every bit as much about our mental state as it is our physical one.

When we were children, we spent endless hours developing our imaginations through play. The older we became, the less allowance we had for play as we attended to responsibilities and commitments. Our grown-up world crowded-out the seemingly idle dynamic of play containing productive elements that strengthen the mind and promote creativity.

And then we retire… Life widens again as stringent parameters defined primarily by work and raising children have fallen away. In our silver years, the sense of chasing the next career goal or up-sized home has morphed to once again enjoying a wide-open world.

Have you forgotten how to play? We no longer rely upon work to accomplish something, so why not work together to actualize elder playgrounds as forums for our long-dormant state of wonder and awe, expanding the notion of freedom and fulfillment. Play is never idle, and neither should retirement be. Play is delightful, to which retirement should aspire.

Play makes us happy. Referring back to my previous blog here, “third places” are happy making.

The existence of elder-specific playgrounds first appeared on my radar long before the pandemic. Now, more than ever, their import is irrefutable. My next blog here will discuss ideas for making an elder or intergenerational playground materialize in your community – particularly as we selectively reshape and redefine our new reality in fresh regard. As individuals, collectively, and as vital elders – let’s actualize this vision.

Senior play is bred of and further promotes our ability to dream beautifully and boldly, to reconcile new ways of being that use the happiness of good health as our muse.

Kerry Cubas has happily landed smack-dab-in-the-middle-of-nowhere. Former creative director for an international design firm based in Manhattan, she renounced global travel for a simple lifestyle’s low environmental footprint. Ensconced in the Maine woods by magnificent trees in lieu of skyscrapers, at a desk overlooking a lake, she works as a freelance writer.

Other articles in this series: