When I was a kid, a playground was where you went to have fun and get your brains knocked out. Back in those days, playground designers were in love with big slabs of cement which they placed under everything from swing sets to monkey bars. Not only that, they were careful to position the chain link fence so that if you fell out of a swing at the top of your arc, you would impale yourself on the fence and then, bouncing off, hit your head on the cement.
Looking back I am only somewhat kiddingly convinced they wanted to kill and or maim us all. Today’s playgrounds are, thankfully, the height of safety. Instead of cement we find soft surfaces and benign pieces of equipment.
But the question that arises is: “Are they too safe?” It appears that some in the playground industry think so. That according to a nice piece in the June 3, 2012 New York Times entitled “Innovations That Will Change Your Tomorrow.” It appears that many of the wonderful pieces of equipment we loved as
children like steep sliding boards (we used to sit on a piece of wax paper to make it a supersonic ride down), monkey bars, see-saws and more have been removed.
The article tells us that two psychologists, Leif Kennair and Ellen Sandseter advocate for playgrounds that contain more risk. They believe that it is worth a skinned knee or a sprained ankle if children can become better prepared to experience a world that is by its very nature full of danger. If you can’t learn to navigate the “real” world on a playground, where are you going to learn how?
In short, they think we are over-protecting children and in doing so damaging them as adults as they will be hampered in assessing risk. That’s why they want to see “towering monkey bars” and steep slides.
I can add another idea. Keep parents off the playground. I can tell you from personal experience that watching your child take on risk of bodily harm is one anxiety producing experience. Maybe kids and parents would both be better off if children were allowed to play without parental supervision. After all, our parents were off somewhere else doing what parents in those days did (what were they doing??) while we climbed tall trees, caught bees in jars and shot real arrows at each other (what in God’s name were we doing with real arrows). We turned out kind of all right (mostly).
So what do you think? And while you’re thinking, do you have any dangerous playground memories?