During the past year, I’ve spoken to countless folks in the ECE (early childhood education) world and I’ve learned that it’s practically taken for granted that sand is an essential and valuable play experience. It’s widely known. It’s widely accepted. There isn’t much debate. Locally, I’ve found incredible support for maintaining access to sand play in our parks and playgrounds in “ECE circles.”
In San Francisco, the list of ECE folks who support our position is long and growing. Practically every day, I hear from a childcare worker or a preschool director who passionately supports our goals (as outlined at the conclusion of our petition).
Why does SFRPD apparently seem to care so little for their
views? Why are their views not being aggressively sought out by SFRPD?
As a passionate advocate of sand play myself, I’ve been amazed at how little, if at all, SFRPD seeks out expert opinion in this debate. I suppose that I am intrigued, as a feminist, by this notion that we needn’t seek out such opinions. Is this because childcare has essentially been women’s work? How little premium do we place--not only on the rights of children, but on the professional and personal opinions of the women who care for them?
We are discussing playground design. We are discussing children’s play. One would think that there would be a desire to run, not walk, toward the ECE world. I am not entirely sure this is born out of a type of misogyny, but it is certainly tempting to think so. In any other project, we would seek out the views of experts. Can you imagine redesigning factories without speaking to manufacturers? Can you imagine redesigning an airplane runway without speaking to individuals in charge of air traffic control? It would be madness!
So, let’s focus a bit on the experts in support of sand play: Alison Gopnik has been referred to as one the most prominent researchers in her field. Her books (The Scientist in the Crib, The Philosophical Baby, The Gardener and the Carpenter) are essential texts in child development and infant play.
Helen Hadani, head researcher at the Center for Childhood Creativity (affiliated with the Bay Area Discovery Museum), is also an expert in children’s play. As a developmental psychologist focusing on children, creativity, and problem solving, she is extraordinarily well versed in the importance of meaningful play experiences.
Support also comes from countless preschool directors and childcare workers. Mame Campbell, the Director of the legendary Glenridge Cooperative Nursery School, has been working with children for over 20 years. Erica Almaguer, the Director of the ASI Early Childhood Center at SF State has been immersed in infant, toddler, and preschooler care for nearly 20 years. Erin Rhyne, Evelyn Nichols, Aida Lane, and Moira Murphy (all childcare and/or preschool directors) are just a few other ECE folks in support of retaining sand play. Is anyone else, aside from our loose contingent of parents forming Save the Sand SF, seeking out their views?
I find this intriguing.
People in power ought to be making a concerted effort to understand children and children’s play when making these important and impactful decisions. There should be no reluctance to consult the most informed voices because all opinions are not created equal. If you have a moment, look through the following list of supporters. In my mind, it’s mind-blowingly simple: we need to consult the experts!
Alison Gopnik, Ph.D
Gopnik Cognitive Development Lab, UC Berkeley
Helen Hadani, Ph.D
(Center for Childhood Creativity and The Bay Area Discovery Museum)
(the "father of the modern playground" and current Expert in Residence at Gymboree)
(Director of the Early Childhood Education Center at SF State)
(Director, Glenridge Cooperative Nursery School)
(Director, Mighty Bambinis Childcare Center)
(Director, The Curious Caterpillar Preschool)
(Director, Valle De Niños Preschool)
(Morning Program Director, Miraloma Co-op)
(Principal, Fletcher Studio Landscape Architecture + Urban Design)
(Former Supervisor, District 11)
(RIE Associate, Infant and Toddler Play Consultant, Parent Educator)