Free Play — In the Middle of the Street?

How does a child learn best? Through free play! This year, together with children, we embarked on a major project in collaboration with the City of Tallinn, the Tulevik on Täna/v festival, Tallinn Harbor, the School of Architecture, the Haabersti district, and the Kadriorg Park Foundation to create a magnificent play area that will continue to stimulate the minds of city residents.

Foto: Vivita Estonia

Play, especially free and risk-filled play, is crucial for children’s physical, cognitive, and emotional development as it provides them with opportunities to learn and interact with their surroundings. Unfortunately, in today’s world, adults often protect children too much from various fears and dangers, preventing them from taking risks. In the end, this approach does more harm than good because children are capable of much more than adults believe. Additionally, it has been found that play involving controlled risks is beneficial for children’s development and health, improving their physical well-being and physical activity levels (1).

Photos: Vivita Estonia

Since most children’s playgrounds are confined and do not foster creative learning, we took on the project of creating our own free play area. A free play area differs from a traditional playground with its open and movable objects. Players have the opportunity to create structures with these objects, fostering creativity and an understanding of the physical world in children.

Fotod: Vivita Estonia

Children and young people from Vivita and the School of Architecture designed an environmentally friendly and inviting area for citizens of all ages through a series of workshops using 1:20 scale models. In the workshops, we let our imagination soar and tested ideas using life-sized augmented reality.

The materials for the play area were sourced from old logs from local parks and leftover ropes from the harbor. Wood was chosen for its natural, durable, accessible, and multifunctional properties. Environmental sustainability was also a crucial factor in material selection. The play area was piloted during the “Future is Today” festival on June 10–11, allowing children to get hands-on experience with construction. They could brainstorm, plan, saw, sand, paint, and drill.

Photos: Vivita Estonia

In the end, we created a fun free play area that invited visitors of all ages, orientations, and nationalities to play. We will now permanently relocate the play area to the Haabersti district, near the Kakumäe beach, where it will be officially opened on June 22nd at 11 am.

If you are interested how to create a free play are then read this manual and also the summary of this project.

This project is supported by Tallinn — European Green Capital 2023.

Text and photos: Vivita Estonia
June 2023