Thanksgiving Special: Outdoor Play in the USA!

26 November 2015


Thanksgiving is almost upon us! The national holiday, celebrated in the USA and Canada, originated when the pilgrims gave thanks to the bountiful harvest in 1621. This is known as the “First Thanksgiving” and is now almost as big as Christmas itself. According to records, the First Thanksgiving was attended by 90 Native Americans and everyone at seasonal food such as sweet potatoes, butternut squash and, of course, the famous roast turkey!

We spoke to Playforce Customer Experience Manager Jenn E. originally from the USA, to learn about the holiday and to find out about outdoor play in the across the pond…

Where are you from in the USA?

I am originally from Rhode Island, which is in the Northeast, between New York City and Boston, Massachusetts.

Can you tell us a bit about what you do at Playforce?

I am the Customer Experience Manager at Playforce and happily take ownership of the entire process. I am working to constantly improve our customers’ experience from start to finish.  I’ve been with Playforce since January 2015.

We're curious to know about play over in the USA. What were playgrounds like when you were growing up?

As a primary school student, our playgrounds consisted of tarmac, massive fields for football and other sports, and usually a climbing frame with swings installed over sand.  Schools tend to use more metal frame structures in the Northeast where I am from, due to such drastic climate changes throughout the year.

And do you think they've changed in the USA since then?

Although I have been quite far removed from primary schools for a while, I know from family and friends that they have remained relatively the same over the past 15 years. Many schools have gone down the more athletic route and have had MUGA’s installed for their students and the family and friends of the community as well. Skate parks are also becoming quite popular on school grounds.

How do they compare to the playgrounds we provide here at Playforce?

Playgrounds in the region where I am from in the USA look to be quite similar to the ones we have here in the UK. However, the USA is a giant place with a diverse range of cultures. Across the USA the approach to outdoor learning tends to change to be relevant to the density of people, cultures and geographic circumstances such as weather and landscape.

The USA's battle with childhood obesity is well publicised, like the UK. Do you think active play is something people champion over there?

Although childhood obesity is a hot topic in the USA, I would say that active play is often forgotten about as a great way of combating it. More schools focus on sport for their pupils, as opposed to individual climbing or swinging equipment. I wouldn’t say active play is forgotten about as a great way of combating it...I would say that the US is quite heavily focused on active play, however they focus more on sport for their active play.

What about taking the curriculum outside?

Every school has an outdoor play area, however this is generally not used for curriculum based activities. In general, schools allow children to play on the equipment during their break time and at lunch.

Schools in the USA focus strongly on their PE classes to tick the curriculum boxes. This is when children learn about many different types of sports, as well as team building and general knowledge on health and fitness.

You will also find that the curriculum will vary based on the regions in the USA. Children attending a school far up north may include skiing in their curriculum, or perhaps in areas with a great deal of nature reserve may take their learning outdoors and enjoying hiking a bit more.

What will you be doing for Thanksgiving?

For Thanksgiving this year my husband and I will be heading to Plymouth to see the Mayflower Steps. On the weekend we will be hosting a large number of family and friends for a sort of ‘Friends-Giving’ with all of our favourite American Thanksgiving dishes. The traditional Thanksgiving dinner would include roast turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, butternut squash, mashed potatoes, dinner biscuits/corn bread, and pumpkin pie for dessert - although most families put their own spin on the meal. Thanksgiving is a day for family and friends to enjoy each other’s company, watch the Macy’s Day Parade from NYC, enjoy a lavish meal, play a few board games, and watch American Football. This holiday kicks off the American holiday season.

What are your top tips for 'taking Thanksgiving outside'?

As children we would spend a bit of time outdoors around Thanksgiving, learning about how the natives farmed all their lovely foods! It would be great to see children in the UK learning about where their food comes from through outdoor play.

Ready to prioritise outdoor play for your school or nursery? Call 01225 792660 today to book a free consultation!

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