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Community Places

 Children are energetic, and they learn about the world by playing in its nooks and landscapes. They dig holes, stack blocks, and climb ladders. It is a joyful exercise of touch and movement. For children to exert themselves in play - and derive the benefits of its intrinsic education ? they need safe and accessible play areas. Creating these areas has been a priority for the Foundation for Child Development.

In August 2004, children and advocates gathered at Bangkok?s Thammasat University to urge for the creation of more children orientated spaces. They spoke of the need for safe play areas in the city?s crowded residential districts. They also voiced their concern about the encroachment of disreputable activities, such as pornography and violent video games, near children?s schools. During the conference, city officials were urged to increase the number of play areas in the city, and enforce safe zones around schools.

Thailand?s children encounter challenges in both urban and rural settings. Advocates, such as the FCD, are trying to create childcare facilities and networks that can share knowledge about child development, and ensure that children are well supervised. The FCD operates two community centers in Bangkok: the Dong Khae Centre and Santikam Centre. They also design and construct playgrounds throughout Thailand.

Children in Bangkok?s urban areas often live in crowded conditions. This is particularly the case for children living around the Dong Khae Centre, which is located next to the Hualampong Railway Station. Children in this area live in illegal tenements without access to basic city services. The Dong Khae Centre provides an accessible recreation space these for children and their families. The staff at the Dong Khae Centre work to support children?s play activities and establish community networks to supervise children and share information about child development and community issues. The Santikam Centre offers similar services in another part of the city located in a fairly dense residential, commercial, and industrial matrix.

When children enter the grounds of FCD community centers they are able to enjoy a terrain, however compact, that is uncommon outside of the city?s parks. In addition to featuring traditional playground structures, these centers allow children to play with and amongst natural materials, such sand and trees. These kinds of ?loose? (moveable) materials facilitate unstructured adventure play. By providing this kind of terrain, children can engage their sense of exploration and imagination in safe environments.

The design and aesthetics of place affects the activities that occur within them. FCD community centers and playgrounds are child-orientated spaces; they are places where we can let childhood reign. In constructing playgrounds, the FCD consults children about the playground?s design. Unlike many of Thailand?s urban and rural areas, the centers and playgrounds constructed by the FCD directly reflect children?s interests and developmental needs.

Another benefit of these places, in both the urban centers and rural playgrounds, is that they attract children of varying ages and interests, and their families. Many child-focused activities are age specific (such as grades in school), but children of all ages can visit FCD centers and playgrounds. The openness of the play areas also allows for the kind of inclusion that would not be possible in single interest clubs. This facilitates interaction (and learning) across different age groups. Furthermore, parents can also meet at these places. These assemblies allow for easier supervision of children and the development of community networks for education and planning.

The idea of place is said to be made up of two parts: space and culture. The FCD?s centers and playgrounds have forged critical spaces in dense urban environments, and created new spaces in rural areas. These spaces have been filled with child and community centric ideas and designs. But it is not just within these places that their benefits are felt; the positive effects of healthy children and strong communities radiate into and transform other places.

January 2005


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