Being a mother of two young kids, I have come to consider myself somewhat of a playground aficionado. I grew up in New York City, so backyards were never a part of my childhood. Playgrounds are where I grew up digging, building, swinging, and laughing, and it's been a trip introducing that world to my sons.
There is a lot to love about our local Panhandle Playground, even besides the fact that it's a block and a half from our house. But it seems to cater more to the under 4 population, and the arsenic in the play structure always kind of creeped me out. So I was excited to attend the first community meeting held by San Francisco Recreation and Parks to discuss the Panhandle Playground redesign.
When we arrived, the walls were filled with pictures of eclectic and innovative play elements that looked like they were from some European country with universal health care and nature kindergartens and all those other progressive ideas that we'd never get here in the U.S. The presenters eagerly showed us the considerations they were taking to ensure that all types of play - solitary, cooperative, imaginative, sensory, etc - were represented in determining new element options. My older son had recently played with some cool scooping and digging components in playground sand in L.A., and he couldn't wait to suggest these in his "playground design" drawing over in the kids section of the meeting. The meeting moderators looked on with a silent smile on their face.
I walked out of the meeting feeling positive about the considerations SF Rec and Parks had taken in eliciting our feedback. That was until my husband uttered the words that would bring us to where we are today: "They're getting rid of all the sand." During the meeting, he had noticed that there weren't any sand elements presented as options, so he had gone to the project managers to mention this. Their response? "Yep." When he had pressed them on why not, their response? "Accessibility." They went on to explain that they were not planning on including sand in ANY of the playgrounds slated for renovations.
Sand had not even been on my radar. I assumed that any playground would have sand. How could it not? Thinking back to the meeting, I realized there had been no mention, no fancy picture, no opportunity for feedback about any sand elements. How could we advocate for sand if we didn't even know we'd have to?
Being a special educator, I of course cared about creating accessible and inclusive playgrounds, but something seemed off. I started doing some research, and found that the very components my son had drawn were actually ADA approved elements to promote accessible and inclusive sand play. Since refuting the accessibility argument to SF Rec and Park, we have received several different responses as to why there will be no more sand, including health and safety, abrasiveness to rubber surfacing, maintenance costs, and even plain old popularity (some parents don't like sand in their house so let's get rid of it all!)
I never intended to become a sand advocate. I didn't know sand needed an advocate. I've witnessed the benefits firsthand in so many ways - students at a popular SF preschool where I worked, whose imaginations ran wild while they created construction projects and gourmet dinners in their sand backyard; middle schoolers with autism, who combed their fingers through the calming sand particles; my own kids, who have learned the trials and tribulations of sharing via buckets, shovels, and coveted dump trucks; and myself, who even into my tween years would carefully sculpt intricate sandscapes that were the pretense for my lifelong passion for ceramic sculpting. Who knew that all of these experiences would need protection for future generations of San Francisco kids?
I certainly didn't anticipate it, but I'm willing to take up the fight.