Risky Playgrounds; A New Movement?

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As I look back upon the playgrounds of my youth, I have to conclude that they were built with the intent to kill us little kids. After all, how do you explain that the swings were built upon a very hard, concrete slab or that a metal fence with a spiked top beckoned us on the upswing? Both were perfectly situated so that, if we fell out,  we were assured to either knock out all of our brains and or all of our teeth. Perhaps they thought there were just too many of us.

I am, of course kidding (kind of) but when I was a kid (and perhaps when you were a kid too) there was no concern with safety. Falling off the top of the jungle jim, getting pitched off the tilt-a-whirl or toppling off the top of the sliding board were just part of the excitement of surviving childhood.

Did it make us tougher than today's kids, who are favored with the safest of play spaces? Probably so but more importantly I think it made us better able to assess risk. Hurt yourself a couple of times and you begin to learn your limits.

It is with that in mind that I invite you to consider a budding movement in the UK to bring risk back to the playground. I learned about it in a New York Times article by Ellen Barry entitled: "In Britain’s Playgrounds, ‘Bringing in Risk’ to Build Resilience."

Ms. Barry tells us that in this new kind of playground they "…have fires,…use knives, saws, different tools,” all used under adult supervision." Wow, not even my playground had fire.

Ms. Barry goes on to quote a sign at one of the playgrounds that explains the purpose of adding risk: “[Risks are] intentionally provided, so that your child can develop an appreciation of risk in a controlled play environment rather than taking similar risks in an uncontrolled and unregulated wider world.”

The article points out that America may well be the last place to embrace risk on playgrounds due to the litigious nature of our culture. That's too bad because we do children no favor by helping them survive childhood without injury only to push them into a world in which they are unprepared to navigate. 

What do you think?

One thought

  1. I agree that our litigious society has taken the fun out of many playgrounds. What happened to those large slides on playgrounds? I am all for keeping kids safe yet, I agree kids need to engage in activities which may appear risky yet builds their confidence. Climbing a high ladder of a slide can be scary for a child, but what a thrill to safely go up, fly down and realize it wasn’t as scary as you thought.
    Deb deSherbinin

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