Playgrounds; When Is Safe Too Safe?


Playgrounds teach us to assess risk and that is something we benefit from for a lifetime.

The above picture is purported to be of the first sliding board erected in the UK. That was 1922 and as you can see, there were no guardrails on the sides so it would have been pretty easy to topple over on your way down.

I never experienced a sliding board quite that unsafe but I have to say that playgrounds when I was a kid were not built with safety in mind. In fact, our playgrounds were so dangerous that I sometimes wonder if the older generation was trying to thin our ranks. I recall the swing sets at my school sitting atop a cement slab. In front of the swings sat a chain link fence. It seemed designed to either knock out all of your teeth or all of your brains. 


Today's playgrounds are of course far safer with things we never thought of like padded play areas. Yet, it seems that some are concerned that we are making playgrounds too safe.  That issue is discussed in a nice article by New York Times reporter Vivian Wang in her article: "New Questions on the Playground; where are the slides?"


As Ms. Wang puts it: "The issue of playground safety has pitted parents unnerved by unpadded concrete and too-high monkey bars against those who worry that constant playground redesigns are making children duller, weaker, less adventurous." She reports that see-saws (also called teeter totters) are no longer available in city parks. 

Here is what I think:

1.    It seems to me that when I was a child, there were more broken arms and cracked heads. So, based upon memory, safer is better. 

2.    On the other hand, playgrounds teach us to assess risk and that is something we benefit from for a lifetime.

3.    We can limit risk but we cannot eliminate it. Its always there.

Bottom line, I think what we need are safe playgrounds that still manage to provide challenges, test courage and encourage stretching (in both senses of the word). What do you think about playground safety.

2 thoughts

  1. I broke my arm twice on a playground, the first falling from a climbing dome and the second from the monkey bar, both before fourth grade. What I remember is learning not take huge, physical risks that yielded little reward. I became a better climber and a better mental negotiator. These are the kinds of risks children should have to make early in their lives.
    Sure, we shouldn’t create playground equipment that poses a death threat, but we take it too much to the opposite extreme. It isn’t helped by helicopter parents, the type who leer at me when my young daughter scales the rock climbing wall without me standing under her … I digress.
    There are great examples of children’s playgrounds in Europe where kids are encouraged to explore, climb and adventure. Unfortunately, our kids don’t get that same experience, and yes, I think it handicaps them.

  2. That slide looks wooden and I can’t imagine the amount of slivers in the butt! On the other hand, my favorite playground equipment in school were the teeter-totters and merry-go-rounds as well as a high metal slide, good swings and some metal monkey bars and I thought it was much better having plain grass or rubber mats under them instead of woodchips.

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