Dangerous Playgrounds; are they a good idea?

Richardglobalheader (5)
Seesaw_w_kids_old_fashioned
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? 

5 thoughts

  1. I agree with your assessment. Over protection and hovering parents are creating young adults who are not prepared deal with or handle what is thrown at them late in life. To much structure and protection limits children’s creative and social skills that were always assisted by learning how not to “get your brains knocked out.” Good article. Based on today’s standards I am not sure how I survived.

  2. Showing off an injury you got on the playground was half the fun! We always tried to outdo each other & if you went to the nurse you got to miss class that afternoon.

  3. When I was a young boy,(Many moons ago), they used to spray water on the cement playgrounds in Central Park (NYC)so kids could skate (navigate)there amonsgt the swings and see-saws. Only problem was they left the grated water drains exposed and if your skate went in, you flew out out of the skate and hit hard on one part of your anatomy or the other. In my case, 2 months in a hospital with a shattered bone in my arm that needed a graft of bone from my leg. If we only were litigious in those days, maybe I wouldn’t have worked in the toy business all these years. Now, with grandchildren, I am glad the playgrounds are safer.

  4. I am trying desperately to figure out where it was, but there used to be a huge play structure in Chicago’s western suburbs. The structure was entirely wooden and was meant to be either a castle or a labyrinth, laid out so that no adult could possibly make it through the cramped jungle gym-like passages. I seem to remember rumors of a kid getting trapped and injured in there, but it was likely made up stories. It was the most fun place ever. I’m sure they destroyed it years ago.
    Still, small injuries are a vital part of childhood. Kids can’t grow up in an ultra safe vacuum.

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