March 8, 2013 - Happy Birthday, Joseph Lee

Swings and slides...monkey bars and structures of all kinds! What would childhood be without playgrounds?

Today's birthday boy, born on this date in 1862, is considered the “father of the playground movement.”

Joseph Lee was a wealthy man who trained to be a lawyer but never ended up practicing law. Instead, he tried to make things better for American society. One thing he thought would help communities and families that lived in them was having playgrounds where children could play.

Lee didn't just think up good ideas, he wrote about them. And he didn't just write about them, he acted. Of course, it's easier to act on your good ideas when you are wealthy—but plenty of people spend their wealth on their own pleasure. Joseph Lee used much of his money to help others.

Lee himself had had lots of recreational activities while growing up in a wealthy family. After he earned his Harvard degrees, he studied crowded poor neighborhoods in his hometown of Boston, Massachusetts, and he saw that there were no safe places to play, much less the sorts of play equipment he had enjoyed as a child. Lee was particularly shocked to see young boys being arrested for playing in the only place they could play: the streets.

So Lee bought a plot of land and cleared it. And there he put game equipment that the children could use.

Lee didn't just walk away from his “do-good” project and hope for the best. Instead, he stuck around and studied how the play equipment was used. And it turned out that the kids who came to his fledgling public park, unsupervised, didn't play with the stuff very much at all. Instead, they fought over it.

So he worked harder on his concept. Lee paid for two recreation leaders to supervise the playground, and eventually Lee's public park included a special area for small children, a boys' play area, individual garden spaces, a sports field, and a building for basketball and club meetings.

Obviously, with all those great resources, the playground and park were a huge success!

Lee traveled about speaking at events and conferences, motivating others to start playgrounds in their towns and cities. He also wrote a guidebook with specific instructions on creating playgrounds, baths, gymnasiums, athletic centers, and even skating rinks!

Lee was a real hero. Here is what he said about children's need for play:

There must be creation, song, wonder, inquiry, and adventure. If these are slighted we shall have committed once again the ancient crime against childhood, of which practically all education has been guilty – the crime of not letting the child live as well as learn.”

Here are some more. Don't miss the Gulliver Park! 

Celebrate Lee by going to your favorite local playground!

If you live in a town with lots of public parks, you could grab your camera and a notebook and explore all the playgrounds in the area. How about creating an online guide to the parks in your town or city? Maybe even with ratings you give each park for cleanliness and fun equipment and so forth.

Also on this date:

International Women's Day

Pirate Anne Bonny's birthday

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