I grew up playing on sand playgrounds as a child in Singapore. Back in those days, Singapore was still a developing country. Providing children with sophisticated playgrounds was not among the top items in the priority list. Having said that, park managers (obviously) tried their utmost to build playgrounds that almost wouldn't kill a kid playing in one within the limited budget. The end product was a very basic range of playgrounds with a few almost sculpture-like concrete structures, designed to look as cutesy as possible to maximise their appeal to the kids.

Unfortunately, hard concrete was hard and children as children, tested their physical limits everyday as a natural part of their early learning process. That resulted in more children returning home with bruised and grazed limbs than preferred. Those days coincided with the emergence of the debut generation of Singaporean cotton wool parents who, ironically, grew up hurting themselves as children by climbing trees and whatnot in their respective environments. With adequate pressure by these parents, I was told by the elders that sand was introduced to the earlier playgrounds to cushion the falls of their kids. In case you were wondering, that explained why the classic "Rabbit" (as above) looked like a half-submerged cartilaginous predator looking for its prey.

I didn't know how the older kids (who should be old farts in their 40s by now) felt with that change. I was one of the 'lucky' kids who was born into sanded playgrounds, never had to play on cold hard concrete. I couldn't help but notice how often we were called 'lucky' by adults with different roles throughout our childhood. Having said that, as far as I could remember, kids of my generations did not take things for granted, yet. Many of my friends treasured our hand-us-downs and hugged our new toys to sleep. On hindsight, we were lucky in all sense of the word, to be born in a generation where developing the country and the people's sense of patriotism was of an equal or higher priority of the GDP. We felt trusted, loved and belonged. Those were the days where children urged their parents to hang our state flags a-flying high and pestered 'uncooperative' neighbours who had 'forgotten' to do so when National Days were looming. In that sense, we were luckier than the children who were born into MRT trains later and of course, than those who were born into billion-dollar air conditioned parks much later.

If sand was introduced as a safety feature to my playgrounds, it was an unintended gift for the beautiful mind of a curious child. Sand ended up as the most versatile element of the playgrounds. On some days we would had it, sand was construction material, bunkers, lava, traps and weapons. On another day, sand would be a drawing block, a message board or a spelling-competition arena. On other days, sand would be currency, gambling props and a treasure hoard. Sand would be the magical resource on the ground that children would use to weave their magic and conjure limitless games and play with their imagination and creativity. In a twist of fate, the concrete ornaments faded gradually into side-kicks as sand became the main character of our playgrounds.

Imagine my disbelief when the authorities decided to remove sand from the playground and replaced it with synthetic rubber. I was already an adult by then so did I really give a damn? As it turned out, I didn't have to shed a quiet tear for children of the next generations. During my last days in Singapore, I could hardly see children patronising these plastic playgrounds. If any, it was with a fraction of vigor that we used to have. Many will attribute that to the huge emergence of electronic toys for children. 

That is arguable because we had our fair share of battery operated toys that hooked us to no end in our days but nothing beat a good old interaction with the gang out there. Better toys? Don't think so. Changing preferences? No. As I found out as a parent much later, children play with anything that they are given. If you give them flour dough, they will play with it and so would they, if you give them weapons with loaded ammunition. So if my child ever prefer an electonic screen to a playground, that will be entirely my doing, not her.

Among the plastic playgrounds aplenty even in Perth, it is great that their sandy counterparts are also widely available. If I can have my way, it will be sandy playground for Albany on any day. She was reluctant to play on sand in the beginning when she was too young to communicate well enough with us but it was clear to me she was lamenting about her disability to walk firmly on sand. Later on when she learnt more words, she would point to her shoe and cry, "Sand!" indicating sand slipped into her shoe and she didn't like it. We would show her how to remove sand from her shoes, effectively teaching her how to put on and remove her own shoes at a rather young age. She insisted to wear her own footwear ever since. It might be a lot more convenient by slapping her an electronic pad to keep her quiet but we decided we would do this the hard way.

As little Albany grew up, she began to appreciate the value of unattractive plain sand. It proved to be a better proposition than sliding fingers on glass. At least, it seemed to me she had the opportunity to develop other cognitive aspects than playing electronic toy could offer. Don't get me wrong, I'm not anti-gaming or some retro playground hippy. I'm a gamer myself and I know the positive and negative aspects of electronic gaming better than anyone else. Yes, there are positive things a child can learn by playing video games but I don't think any child who haven't even learn how to move his or her body properly yet should be advancing into that stage so early.

I was informed by a would-be teacher many schools in Perth are actively turning their playgrounds into nature based playgrounds. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that. That would be another tick in the box regarding where I should be raising my child. Perhaps I should enroll her in a school with a higher budget so I can play in their fantastic tree house when nobody is looking


  1. I concur. Just yesterday I was lamenting the death of the sandy playgrounds. It was a moment of the good old days when i chanced upon one near Hougang central. Really praying they'll keep this one last fragment of Singapore.

  2. There is a new sandy playground with a huge rope climbing "pyramid" and an unique rope climbing "x'mas tree" spin at cck park.