I watched as a parent volunteer watched a child tumble off a hammock and onto the ground, allowing the child to fall first, before he came to its aid. This ability, to patiently wait and watch as children make mistakes without preventing them from doing so, I learnt, is an essential skill cultivated in all ‘playworkers’ or parent volunteers at Bindoongplay, a community adventure playground in a suburban town of South Korea called YangPyeong.
A child swinging precariously on a hammock at Bindoongplay.
The word Bindoong in Korean means to be relaxed and to be in a state of ease, as the 5 directors who conceptualised this space hope all its users will be when they spend time here. The word also means an empty nest which signifies a cosy space ripe with possibilities as Bindoongplay is to all the people who use it!
On arriving at Bindoongplay on a cloudy, December afternoon, I was immediately aware of the spaciousness of it, further exaggerated by the tall height of the bridge under which it is built. Adjacent to the playground, running perpendicular to the bridge, is a small stream called Satancheon that Choi Hyeong-uk, one of Bindoongplay’s directors, hopes one day to be able to integrate into the infrastructure of the playground itself. Until that happens however, he said that the children have ample opportunity to play with water in the open storm water drain that runs through the playground, joining the stream at its lower end. “One thing the children like to do is to watch the tadpoles swimming in the channel. In one instance a guest child, who was visiting for the first time, emptied a bucket of paint into the water following which, the rest of the children decided to build a dam in it to prevent the dirty paint water from reaching the stream,” said Choi Hyeong-uk further describing the possibilities of play the channel offered to the children.
A stormwater drain running along the middle of the Bindoongplay playground.
With 40 member families at present, the idea for Bindoongplay was conceptualised when Choi Hyeong-uk and his colleagues began to feel an increasing need for there to be a space where children could engage in uninhibited free play. Their research indicated that about 80% Korean children play for less than 1 hour every day, owing to the pressures of conventional schooling systems in Korea. Bindoongplay’s role in its community thus, is not just limited to offering a space to play, but is rather the start of a movement to bring back free play into Korean childrens’ lives and daily routines. As a leader and firm advocate of the merits of free play, Choi Hyeong-uk is developing this playground sponsored by Arts Council Korea as a replicable model that communities around the country can build together.
Choi Hyeong-uk presenting his pictures and insights on community adventure playgrounds he visited on a recent trip to Tokyo, Japan.
Much of the playgrounds’ infrastructure is built by parent volunteers in collaboration with guest artists and team Bindoongplay, who hope for this to be a place where adults too can tinker with tools, build experiments and unleash their creativity alongside the children. Inspired by a floor mural made by an artist by tracing stains on one area of the playground, I too decided to trace stains with white paint along the surface of a concrete pillar that already had some graffiti on it by the children.
A floor mural made by a guest artist by tracing stains on the ground.
My stain traced art in white paint between other previous doodles by Bindoongplay children.
While I painted my pillar, I watched out of the corner of my eye as a child built a cave of his own, with planks of wood and shovels full of mud. I was told that this was the most recent project he had undertaken, and that if I wanted to peek into his cave, I should do so without leaving a trace!
A cave in the making.
The afternoon thus passed by and come three o’clock, the children started ambling towards the little DIY kitchenette that the parents had set up with an electric stove and disposable utensils. There were steaming cups of instant ramen and some delicious lemon tea available for anyone who wanted a refreshment!
Choi Hyeong-uk making instant ramen and lemon tea at Bindoongplay’s DIY kitchenette.
Then the families said goodbye to one another and Choi Hyeong-uk and another parent volunteer locked up the equipment in a stationary truck-like container. The gates were duly locked and soon everyone was driving away, their hearts full and their minds already spinning dreams of how they will play next Saturday!
The entrance gate at Bindoongplay.