No Parents on the Playground! (They Might Be Predators)

Hi Readers — Take a Valium  THEN read this: Two “adventure” playgrounds in England  have BANNED PARENTS. After all, parents are adults and so are sexual predators,  so from now on, in the land of the Magna Carta, only playground workers who have passed a background check will be allowed in. Why?

Councillors in Watford claim they are only following Government guidelines and cannot allow adults to walk around playgrounds “unchecked”.

You know, I never thought of myself as walking around “unchecked” before. Anyway, more bureaucracy:

“Due to … regulations we have a responsibility to ensure that every authorised adult who enters our site is properly vetted and given a Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check by Watford Borough Council.”

Council Mayor Dorothy Thornhill argued they are merely enforcing government policy at the play areas, in Vicarage Road and Leggatts Way .

She said: “Sadly, in today’s climate, you can’t have adults walking around unchecked in a children’s playground and the adventure playground is not a meeting place for adults.

“We have reviewed our procedures, so although previously some parents have stayed with their children at the discretion of our play workers, this is not something we can continue to do.

“There are other places in the town for parents with small children to go.”

Yeah, like “to hell.” — Lenore

62 Responses

  1. Although I understand the thought process that went into this decision as being tinged in paranoia, I can’t help but think free range kids can only benefit if their parents are kicked off the playground … everywhere.

  2. OMG, that’s the ultimate ridiculousness. That just means parents will stop taking their kids to the playground. So they expect people to keep constant watch over their children but forget the playground because if you’re an adult, you’re not allowed. What the hell are they thinking?!?

    BTW: Lenore, you’re link doesn’t work; it goes to a page that requires logging in to Yahoo…do you have the direct link to the article?

  3. Ummm, so basically, parents can’t be trusted to watch their own children? Now a paid government worker is better suited for that? And there’s neeeever been a predator who has passed a background check before, right? (Which I realize is beside the point, but still!)

    I predict those playgrounds become deserted soon. My baby isn’t old enough yet for this to be an issue, but when he’s a little older you can bet I’d want to keep my eye on him and when he’s a older than that I’d still want the right to be on the premises, whether I used it or not.

  4. The kid in me says, “Awesome!” The parent in me says, my kids might be lonely down there because my uptight neighbors can’t let their kids out of their sight.

  5. The civil libertarian in me says to rage against the loss of civil rights.

  6. Link take you to Yahoo Mail.

  7. I’m with toyfoto in that I see the Free Range benefit to this – “you have to leave the playground now daddy, you’re not allowed. Go somewhere and read a paper and have a coffee, I’ll call you on your cell when I’m ready to be picked up.”

    At many of the playgrounds that I see here in Northern California, “unaccompanied” adults are not allowed. The logic there is more to keep the playgrounds for kids instead of homeless adults or teens, who have crowded out the little ones allowed. There is probably a bit of fear of pedophiles in the rule as well, but I’m OK with that.

  8. Having sent this to you yesterday I have read more on it . Watford council it seems are saying that this is the type of playground where you drop off your kids to be supervised by others, its not meant to be a play park where parents supervise the children themselves.

    is the article I read
    this is the local paper

    Watford council have said this

  9. […] (via BoingBoing, also covered on Free Range Kids) […]

  10. But I like watching my kids play at the playground… It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. In a good way.

  11. During the lunch hour at my kids school, parents are not allowed in the back unless they first go to the front office, sign in, get a visitor badge, then make their way around the school.

    Same reason. Don’t know who a predator is and who a parent is.

  12. “Play workers”? Talk about an oxymoron! (With decided emphasis on the MORON who devised this asinine legislation).

  13. Oh for f**ks sake!!!!!!! What the hell kind of country is this coming to… (I live in the UK!!)

    I work for a major drainage company and we have to have CRB checks done on our engineers as they sometimes do work in schools, unblocking drains and such.. Obviously the poor guys are all potential paedophiles as they work in these schools!!!

  14. How crazy that it has to be all or nothing. Personally, I would be thrilled if there was a playground where I could drop off my kids without having to worry that someone would call the police for child neglect. I assume that if they let parents accompany their kids, they would also have to REQUIRE the parents to do so.

  15. This is absurd – there can’t possibly be enough ‘play rangers’ to properly ‘supervise’ or survey the entire area. And I don’t mean ‘helicoptering’ – I mean watching for disputes, accidents, bullying, etc. I may not hover, but I’d like to be perhaps within earshot. I want my son to be free range, but free range does not mean abdicating all responsibility, or having the choice taken away.

    Absurd. I wonder if the parks will become noticeably emptier if this is enforced.

  16. I think this is a good idea, and sadly, a necessary evil. I have been approached more times than I can count by single men (with no children) who were hanging around the playground, in spite of huge signs which say, “NO ADULTS WITHOUT CHILDREN ALLOWED”. Some of them were scoping out single mothers, others… no idea. If all adults are kept out, I guess this solves it. In theory, I love the idea of free-range kids. But fact: this is not the same world we grew up in. Jacee Lee Dugard was taken a block from my house, and it seems like horrific things are happening to children every other day. I can’t chance it. I don’t see how this would infringe upon my civil liberties, even as a Libertarian.

  17. Pathetic. If I can’t play WITH my kids I’d just take them somewhere else. England sure is going deeper and deeper off the deep end on these sorts of things. The weird thing to me is: What percentage of real child assaults happen against children in public playgrounds? I’ll guess it’s even more rare than stranger-creeping-in-through-your-bedroom-window assaults. So much ado about effectively nothing.

    @Jo-Ann: I hate to break it to you, but a predator can sign in and get that visitor badge just as easily. The process only gives an illusion of security. Of course, a real predator isn’t going to seek entry to a building filled with hundreds of kid and dozens of adult witnesses. Aren’t their crimes more opportunistic and spontaneous? In private homes, etc? Somewhere where they are left alone with a single child?

  18. I’ve seen the “adventure playgrounds” in England. THOSE are what’s dangerous. Also, can we just cut to the dystopian future where all children are raised by robots.

  19. @Noel: I think you forgot to read the real statistics and swallowed the media hype instead. These types of horrible things are happening to kids less and less.

  20. “you have to leave the playground now daddy, you’re not allowed. Go somewhere and read a paper and have a coffee, I’ll call you on your cell when I’m ready to be picked up.”

    How much do you want to bet parents aren’t allowed to leave “the premises,” though?

    But my question is, are the parents allowed to take their kids home with them, or do they have to leave them with government-approved people? And will they ban people from having unrelated adults come into their homes while their children are there? “Sorry, honey, I can’t invite Mrs. Henderson for dinner. She didn’t get a background check!”

  21. “But my question is, are the parents allowed to take their kids home with them, or do they have to leave them with government-approved people? ”
    Very good question!

  22. Also @ Noel: Please reread your statement. “It SEEMS like horrific things are happening to children every other day” because of the 24/7 media cycle and the subsequent endless need to fill airtime and garner ratings.

    This type of legislation PROFOUNDLY infringes upon EVERYONE’S civil liberties because it is one more slip down the slope of prohibiting parents from having access to their own children and making children permanent wards of the state.

  23. If you look into what these facilities actually DO they’re more an after school program than you’re neighborhood playground. How many kids in this country have their parents hanging around the YMCA during their after school programs? Really? How many dance schools ask parents to leave or be out ofsight so the kids will pay attention and participate without the parents being a distraction? Much the same thing here.

    This is NOT England telling parents they can’t hang out at the local neighborhood playground with their kids and parent-friends for the afternoon. This is them saying “we’re running a program that’s easier if we don’t have countless people milling around”.

  24. Stacy, I think that would work as an explanation if they weren’t using expressions like “Sadly, in today’s climate, you can’t have adults walking around unchecked in a children’s playground”. They didn’t say a word about needing to keep the kids’ attention or lack of distraction, everything was about safety, background checks, and people who met “guidelines” for being with children.

    You’re right — my daughters’ ballet school doesn’t let us wander around the studio when they’re teaching. They do, however, allow us to be in the building and to interact with our own and even (gasp) other people’s children “unsupervised” in the hallways and dressing areas.

    I can see what you’re saying about how not having parents “in the way” could legitimately be part of the reason they do this. But they sure aren’t making it sound like the motivations you describe have very much to do with it, as opposed to motivations concerning paranoia.

  25. “Jacee Lee Dugard was taken a block from my house,”

    In full sight of one of her parents. NOTHING is going to prevent someone that daring and determined from causing harm to a child. Certainly NOT restricting parents from being around THEIR OWN KIDS. And there is nothing magical about these “workers” that ensure they will never cause harm. Kids are preyed upon by teachers, organizational staff, and other people who should be above reproach regularly. (By regularly I don’t mean a slam upon teachers and people who work with kids, the overwhelmingly vast majority of whom would never do such a thing, but I mean that it’s unfortunately frequent — more frequent than stranger attacks.)

  26. I heard the Mayor of Watford talking about this on a radio station this morning. Apparently, it is a case of mis-reporting.

    It’s not really a playground apparently, it’s more a sort of playgroup. Most of the parents choose to their leave their children there and go off and do their own thing for a while, but a minority like to stay and one or two were “causing trouble” (she didn’t say what kind). So instead of just banning the trouble-makers, they decided it would be easier to just impose a blanket ban on parents citing CRB regulation.

    The mayor admitted that if the situation really was as it had been the reported she would have been the first to “take myself out to be shot” and that maybe it had been a case of “using a sledgehammer to crush a nut”.

    The interesting thing to me is that the view from teachers, council officials and other authorities these days seems to be that if you want to control parents, the trick is simply to utter the magic words “health and safety” or “Criminal Records Bureau” and that will just silence people because no one can possibly argue against that the all-purpose concept of “health and safety, can they?

  27. I think what this comes down to is pretty simple: interfering with the right of parents to raise, and supervise, their children as they chose. I do not have children, but if I did, this would be my response.

    These are MY children, and I will supervise their play if I chose. These are MY children, and I will leave them at the playground to play by themselves if I chose. I wil decide what level of supervision is appropriate for them, because whatever deficiencies I may have as a parent, I certainly know better than a random “play ranger” what is best for MY child. Further, I have a right to raise MY children as I want, whether free range or helicopter.

    Further, I am insulted, as should every other adult, at the idea that all adults are perverts, and moreover, the very rare sorts of perverts who molest or kidnap children from crowded playgrounds in broad daylight. Indeed, what is safer . . .a few play rangers or a larger group of parents, all on the lookout for people acting strangely? Frankly, as far as I can tell, if we are talking pervert protection, the more adults around the better, because the vast majority of adults would run to the child’s aid if they screamed for help.

    And as for no adults at the playground (or even near it) what about older folks who want to watch kids because they miss their own? Young couples deciding if they want children? Heck, folks like me with dogs who want to stand near by so my dogs get used to running and playing children (making life safer for both dogs and children)? There are many legitimate reasons to be near a playground even if you don’t have children. This sort of paranoia isn’t good for the kids, or even for safety. Its also insulting, and a disincentive for adults who encounter a child in trouble to help . . .

  28. pentamom – I fully agree the problem is with the presentation, both in the legislation wording *and* in the media coverage of the problem. The situation has been presented in as inflammatory a way possible, which is ridiculous since it isn’t any different from any of the dance/gymnastics/after school programs I’ve been involved in during the past 35 years.

  29. Apparently, the playgrounds in question are NOT public. They’re supervised facilities.

    With this in mind, I can kinda see why they would ban parents. Can you imagine trying to run a supervised play facility with a bunch of parents hovering about? In this case I’m inclined to think this is a good policy, but if it were a public playground, I’d be vehemently opposed. Since it’s not public, parents can either agree to the rules or go to a public playground. Parents aren’t allowed to just hang out at schools and it’s definitely a good thing.

  30. I know there are “creepy” men hanging around kids’ areas, seemingly unaccompanied by kids. My husband had an appointment on the way to somewhere my kids and I needed to be, so we carpooled and I dropped him off. We thought we were going to be done at roughly the same time, but instead, his appointment was over an hour early and mine went late. He was supposed to meet me at our large central library, in the kids’ area.

    The security guard ran him off three times before telling him he was going to call the police if he came back. We got there just after, and immediately my son went into a robotics class and our next one and I had to make a restroom run. That left him holding the hand of our 4-year-old.

    When we got back a few minutes later, the guard was asking my four-year-old if this was really her daddy, confusing and upsetting her. Then my 10-year-old, who had lingered at the drinking fountain, bounded up and said “Daddy, we walked all over looking for you! You were supposed to be HERE!” and the guard looked like he was going to blow his stack and abruptly left. 🙂

    My husband says he’s also gotten suspicious looks when he’s taken one or more of our kids to a park and had to wait by the restroom, or when sitting on the bench while the kids play (looking like he was there alone, yet watching apparently intently).

  31. @ Noel – Sorry you’ll need to turn in your Libertarian party card. Background checks to be at a playground. ‘A necessary evil’? Hardly.

  32. My son is only three and still requires me to hang around, so I guess I would be the one avoiding that place. He tends to try things he can’t yet do and falls or gets stuck. I let him b/c it’s a learning thing, but that means I have to be there to pick up the pieces. Is someone else going to do that for me?

  33. Tracey R-

    How sad for your husband, but kudos go to your 10-year old! I would have loved to see that guard’s face! 🙂

    My hubby is 13 years older than me and most people assume he is our son’s grandfather. When he says no, they look at him very strangely. It takes several minutes to explain he is the father and I am his wife. Ugh.

  34. Even the Brits themselves know for years that this hysterical reaction of seeing a paedophile in every adult is getting out of hand. Here a selection of ‘Monkey Dust’s’ infamous Paedophilefinder General.
    (Monkey Dust being a very black, very satyrical British cartoon – not for the faint-hearted, so beware)

  35. Parent = pedophile. Total stranger = perfectly safe. Ah, see, stranger danger lessons as a child just confused me. =)

  36. ok. I get where you’re coming from and you’re right – this is a stupid rule.

    Having said that – I would LOVE to be able to drop my kids off at the playground and have someone else take care of them while I did something that did not include sitting at the playground.

  37. It sounds like they took the measure, then, to keep the helicopter parents from being disruptive.

  38. I have a book in mind… yes… a book for the society of children that we wish to create by removing the adults. Yes. “Lord of the Flies.”

    I mean, why not? If we just ship all the children of the world to some continent and ban all adults from entering the continent we’d be just fine. In fact, we could ultimately just go “Brave New World,” and skip the act of procreation – take the parenting of unauthorized people out of the equation – and just breed people for certain jobs. I mean, really, isn’t that what we’re doing anyway?

  39. Stacy, it isn’t just the *reporting,* though. The council mayor was QUOTED giving a paranoiac safety rationale for the policy.

    Now it seems like it got twisted up somewhere along the line, but somebody somewhere (at the very least the council mayor of the town) actually thought fake safety was a decent rationale to give a reporter for the practice. So somebody really IS thinking that would be a decent thing to do — ban parents to protect kids from molesters.

    I am, however, glad to see that this probably really wasn’t the original rationale from the people who came up with the policy, but in reality it was more about order and allowing the program to run without interference.

  40. If I didn’t read through the comments, I would not know that the playground is not a public facility and that what is reported in the initial blog posting is not a good reflection of the situation. Isn’t this one of the complaints of this blog? That things are not reported accurately ? That people’s fears are based on overblown media reports ?

    Even with the additional responses to the original posting, it seems like some people are still taking away the message that a public playgroud in England has banned parents in favour of government employees.

  41. […] No Parents on the Playground! (They Might Be Predators … […]

  42. “fact: this is not the same world we grew up in.”

    That’s true.

    It’s a lot safer than the world we grew up in.

    “Jacee Lee Dugard was taken a block from my house”

    So? One isolated incident in the past eighteen years, and that means we have to live in a police state? There was a car accident a block from my house the other night. Does that mean I should never drive a car again? Which happens more frequently, car accidents or child abductions?

    “and it seems like horrific things are happening to children every other day.”

    Yes, when you have a hysterical, sensationalistic media reporting non-stop every time a pretty little white kid goes missing, then yes, that is how it seems.

    “I can’t chance it. ”

    You can’t chance anything bad possibly happening to your children, no matter how remote the possibility? Then you must never let them leave the house again.

    “I don’t see how this would infringe upon my civil liberties, even as a Libertarian.”

    Then you need to have a closer look at the philosophy you claim to follow. Needing a background check to be in the same facility as your own children doesn’t seem like an infringement on your civil liberties? Really?

    No, seriously, really?!

  43. As some have alluded, this is not a matter of whether parents should be allowed on playgrounds in general. I think the particular incident has been a bit misperceived and blown, inevitably, out of proportion.

    I think the question at heart here is really this: What degree of Openness should Adventure Playgrounds have?

    If you aren’t familiar with Adventure Playgrounds, then I just have to be perfectly honest: You have no idea what this is really is about. It might be helpful to read up on the history and philosophy of APs if you like (this site is a good starting place: ), or to read up on the Playwork profession (I’d recommend Bob Hughes’ books) – but until you’ve actually been to an Adventure Playground and spent some time there, you simply cannot gain an appreciation for the amazing complexities of what they entail, how they impact children’s lives, and of course the difficulties in trying to run one (both as a playworker and on a managerial level).

    It is true that the council mayor was cited by the Telegraph as giving a “paranoiac safety rationale” for not allowing parents – and, I’d imagine, that rationale is probably as equally ill-received by the Adventure Playground staff themselves. It’s hard to fund an AP, though, and sometimes the only way to do it is through local government: which brings its own layers of bureaucracy and removes a lot of control from the people actually there with the kids day in and day out.

    A major tenet of the philosophy of Adventure Playgrounds is a principle of Openness: Children should be free and open to do what they wish, play as they like – and more importantly, come and go when they want. The whole idea was to turn the spaces into neighbourhood-based resources for children in the broader context of their lives – not as a mere attractions their parents drop them off at on special occasions, but as places kids can come to with friends after school if they like, hang out at for however long they want, and leave when wish.

    Unfortunately, it seems for the Harwoods and Harebreak Adventure Playgrounds, the Local Authority officials in charge of them haven’t really understood this philosophy of Open-access: They’ve required that children are first registered to visit, for instance, and the general feeling I get is that parents are either required or encouraged to drop off and pick up their kids – but children aren’t free to come and go as they wish.

    I think the real concern here should be with the CHILDREN’s level of open-access – not their parents’. Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn about whether parents are allowed or not to linger at an Adventure Playground. What I care about is whether kids themselves feel the freedom to come and go as they wish, unhindered by both policy and their parents’ free range allowances.

  44. “Author: Mary Mac
    “If I didn’t read through the comments, I would not know that the playground is not a public facility and that what is reported in the initial blog posting is not a good reflection of the situation. Isn’t this one of the complaints of this blog? That things are not reported accurately ? That people’s fears are based on overblown media reports ?

    Even with the additional responses to the original posting, it seems like some people are still taking away the message that a public playgroud in England has banned parents in favour of government employees.”

    That was my point when I sent the other links “some press in England” take things out of context and the report I read in the guardian caught me out.

    But I think its a sad reflection of our society that anyone who is near a play park or any facility with children is seen to be up to know good.

  45. @Noel: You cannot say that ‘today” is different than way-back-when and then give an example from nearly TWO DECACDES AGO! And, as I heard the story, she was on a street/sidewalk, no? So, we should ban “unchecked” adults from sidewalks, too? From driving cars because they might lure someone into it?

    Someone else mentioned that this is an afterschool type of program. I guess if that’s the case, I see the idea of not wantinh parents mulling about. However, I agree with Pentamom in that it doesn’t sound like that’s there intent – sounds more like they are afraid the parents/adults will do something harmful to the children. And that is the outrage here.

  46. Ok, so these Adventure Playgrounds are more like Y’s in the US, where you do leave your children with other adults, and not like a neighborhood playground. However, I think the Free-Range outrage is still legitimate. Instead of figuring out how to handle nudgy, annoying moms and dads, the authorities cited the ever lurking predator as the reason for keeping out the parents . For heavens sake, why?

    I am in the middle of The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner. He travels the world “researching” what makes certain places happier than others. One thing that he has discovered–and backed up by some data–is that when the people in a community trust each other, they are happy.

    The UK must be a pretty unhappy place right now.

  47. I have two thoughts on this.

    The rationale given in the original report is absurd and disturbing.

    BUT I actually really like the idea of adventure playgrounds where kids go without their parents. In fact, I just commented on the Spain thread about a playground like that in the Spanish city where my family spent a sabbatical year in 1981/82: kids went in, parents sat and had a cold drink at the café near the gate. It was incredibly liberating (at least, for Canadian kids with a somewhat overprotective mother) and a lot of fun. However, it was never framed as “for the kids’ safety”; the fence around the (very large, wooded) play area was for safety, but keeping the parents out was so that the kids could be independent and have fun. And did we ever!

    Possibly the real issue here is straight-up bad reporting. The no-parents rule itself I have no problem with, but it disturbs me that “parents might be predators” and “no one who hasn’t had a CRB check should be in contact with children” would immediately leap to anyone’s mind as a rationale for said rule.

  48. sylvia_rachel, that was very well put.

  49. Daniel, thank you for the link – I suggest that all FRK devotees go there and read carefully about what the Adventure Playgrounds are supposed to be like.

    I wish that one would open in my neighborhood. And that parents would be banned from it, too. Isn’t that what Free Range is really about? Parents allowing their children to have freely integrated social interaction in natural ways without parents running the place?
    The Adventure Playground concept sound heavenly!
    From the site:
    In a sense, you and I have always played in “adventure playgrounds.” We created a fort in the kitchen cabinets, jumped from couch to couch across oceans; we snuck out through a hole in the fence to a new world. We climbed trees and hid in bushes. We played in the mud and the rain. We chased each other, made secret worlds with our own language. We created spaces with whatever we could find around us. Some of us played in abandoned buildings, or barns, or vacant lots between buildings, used what we found and made up stories of our lives to be. We looked everywhere to find our space.

    We made a children’s world in the city and in the country. Imagine, a place that provides all that, in the middle of a city. Here you go, hammers, saws, nails, wood, tires, rope, cloth, whatever you can find. Make it yours. You can change this playground right here, right now. You don’t have to make an appointment. You can walk or ride your bike, and there are people here to help and encourage you. What if you had that space? What if every child had that space?

    Love it! And Parents Stay Away!

  50. I agree, Rachel – I think the real issue here has been straight up bad reporting on the part of the Telegraph. They’ve painted this as a set of circumstances that clearly haven’t occurred.

    For follow-up, here’s the BBC’s (much more level-headed) story:

    And my more in-depth response:

    In short, the Watford Borough Council’s decision was not about whether parents should be allowed onto playgrounds in general – but about whether their presence interfered with the culture of these two specific Adventure Playgrounds, and the playworker staff’s ability to supervise the playgrounds and uphold their unique cultures.

  51. Seriously? Are we going to require a background check before people have children or visit their grandchildren? Or are we only worried they will abuse non-relatives (contrary to all the evidence)? So many abusers have no record, and many on the sex offender registry are there for offenses like having had consensual sex with another teenager while in high school. Extending this vetting process to all sorts of settings stigmatizes people unfairly and gives a false sense of security.

    I sometimes stop at the dog park on my walk home because I like to watch the dogs play even if my dog isn’t with me. People don’t look at me like I’m a crazy dog-napping pervert; they are happy to share the joy of watching their dogs run and play. If only this were true of playgrounds.

  52. I agree that the parent ban has been blown all out of proportion and that the Council was probably just trying to rid themselves of pita parents. However, the Council brought this on themselves by making inflammatory comments about the dangers of parents being allowed in.

    It just amazes me that officials don’t have a clue about the effect of their comments on the public. Do they think they live in a vacuum? Does anybody think things through anymore?

  53. This is probably true, E. Simms. In hindsight, the Council mayor emphasised all the wrong things in defence of the move – citing safety, fear of sexual predators, that sort of thing. At least, sadly, those were her lines that the Telegraph latched onto, and was the able to spin the story as. So no, it wasn’t the best handling of the situation…

    But that said, and judging by a comparison between the Telegraph’s and the BBC’s reporting, I’d say the biggest fault lies with the Telegraph. This was just sloppy, context-less and politicised reporting.

  54. […] No Parents on the Playground! (They Might Be Predators) Hi Readers — Take a Valium  THEN read this: Two “adventure” playgrounds in England  have BANNED […] […]

  55. This is so sad. 😦 As for people saying these playgrounds are free range…..they aren’t. There are adults supervising and making sure the kids follow the rules and so on. Not their parents, but adults none the less. And from my experience working inschools, this sort of supervision is sometimes much more strict than you would get with parents. Free range would be without any adult supervision. It’s just passing the control to strangers. 😦

  56. Hi Jennifer,

    I’d just like to follow up on your statement; based upon my own experience and graduate research in Adventure Playgrounds, I’d simply say that your characterisation is perhaps not quite fair of the “adult” role at them.

    It does seem paradoxical to have adult “playworkers” present on the playground, but it must be understood that there are no “rules of the playground” that they enforce, no direction they provide, not even any real “supervision” (in a classical sense) that they offer. Playworkers are there to ENABLE and SUPPORT children’s play, to allow for children to play in ways that wouldn’t otherwise be possible in densely populated urban settings. It’s really a rather unique role, and it’s nearly impossible to understand without seeing the role done (well) in person. Bob Hughes, a British playworker, has written quite a bit about the dynamic and function of the role if you’d like to read more, though.

    Speaking more personally, I’m not sure having Free Range children or Free Range environments for children necessarily means they have to be completely absent of adults’ presence. I’ve always taken it as meaning the children have choice, and opportunity, to do as they wish and interact with who they wish; they have a sense of empowerment within a civil community. I don’t think many would advocate “Free Range” as meaning that children have to be removed entirely from that civil community to a new, entirely kid-populated environment.

  57. I don’t think Jennifer was saying there should be NO adults on the playground. She was simply saying that it isn’t technically free range if there still HAS to be adult supervision at all times. I think most of us view free range as not having to hover over our kids supervising them at all times and making sure nothing bad happens. Let me ask you: Are the adults on the playground there to break up a fist fight between two seven year old boys in a bullying situation? Are they there to be sure the equipment doesn’t get used in a dangerous way? (Such as a sword fight using sticks between two 9 year old boys.) If the answer is that they would stand by and allow the kids to play as they want and work out any bullying problems on their own, then what ARE they there for? A few years ago it would have been unheard of for adults to HAVE to be around to support and enable children’s play. (Do they think the kids can’t handle playing on their own?) Kids got with kids on the sandlot and just played. The free range movement is allowing your kids the freedom to be kids and work out solutions on their own without constant supervision. If there are adults there watching over the kids, then it’s supervising, which I think all Jennifer and many others on this site was saying was that why don’t they trust the parents to do that? It’s was clearly stated that because they are concerned about preditors. So parents are banned. And they are banned because of an overactive fear. Not because they want to give kids the freedom to play and interact as they wish.

  58. “If the answer is that they would stand by and allow the kids to play as they want and work out any bullying problems on their own, then what ARE they there for?”

    To keep all those dangerous parents away, of course!

    What I find funny is that they won’t allow parents on the property to interact with their own kids, but they’ll happily let the kids go home with ‘potentially dangerous predators’ at the end of the day.

  59. Daniel,
    Yes, I checked out the website and listed under a “typical afternoon scenerio” was a group of children playing WITH a playworker. They were there to play with the children. It’s a shame they don’t allow parents to play with their kids there. Apparently you must have special training and background checks to be able to play with your own children. LOL And they also mentioned SEVERAL times the playworkers were there to supervise the children. Free range is trusting kids to be able to handle playing together without adult supervision. It’s certainly not living without adults. But it’s the confidence in your kids to be able to run outside and playwithout an adult keeping watch over them every minute to ensure nothing bad happens. (Think “Leave it to Beaver”) Wally and Beaver would daily kiss their mother goodbye and run out to play in the park, the baseball field, or just roam around the neighborhood without adults being “right there” to supervise. I know that’s just a TV show, but speaking to many from that generation, it was also a reality. Their parents were still a major part of their world. They just weren’t there supervising them every second.

  60. Please understand that I’m very much in agreement with you in philosophy and what I wish for kids. I’m very for the free range ethos – this sandlot, “Leave it to Beaver” idea so many of us remember from our own childhoods – and I think most playworkers are too. The nuance is in the context and circumstances, and in how the philosophies overlap.

    It does need to be made clear, though: a founding principle of Adventure Playgrounds is one of OPENNESS.

    * There’s openness in children’s choice to play as they wish, within a very supportive environment – with both ample materials to build and play with and a supportive community to be a part of (yes, including caring, listening, supportive adult playworkers).

    * There’s also crucially an openness in children’s ability to come and go; Adventure Playgrounds are, to kids, a community resource that they can visit and use. However, it’s *the child’s choice* to come and go as they please.

    The ethos behind Adventure Playgrounds is not one in contradiction of the Free Range ethos, but instead I think can be found to be very complimentary of it. Adventure Playgrounds are just one option for kids, one place they can go, but it’s ultimately up to them. It’s simply another opportunity for them, a widening and deepening of their range to roam.

    What’s ultimately important to remember, though, is the CONTEXT of Adventure Playgrounds: almost exclusively, APs are found in very densely populated urban areas and cities. We’re all in support of “The Sandlot,” but the problem is you’re not going to find a sandlot in the city. This isn’t suburbia or your small, homey American town. Often there are really very few physical places within these dense urban areas that can serve as social and communal spots for kids (and there’s also great social friction when kids try to be within “public” spaces, but get accused by old guys of being pesky annoyances and hoodlums); certainly there’s hardly any physical places that kids can actually build, construct forts, and have full control of.

    That’s where APs can really greatly extend children’s empowerment to roam and be in charge of their day and activity.

  61. And now as for the role of the playworker, I guess the only thing I can say is that you have to see them to know what their role really is. And remember, the best playworkers recognise that their role is very fluid:

    Sometimes it means playing with kids, but often it means standing back. Sometimes it means breaking up kids’ fights, but sometimes it means letting kids learn to resolve issues on their own. Sometimes it means providing building materials and guidance for kids to build forts, or build fires, but sometimes it’s letting kids rummage for their own materials. The magic, and what most playworkers strive for, is when they can fade into the background for kids until absolutely needed or asked for by kids.

    That’s the real difficulty in it – it’s a tightrope act to be a playworker. Most are fully cognisant of the fundamental paradoxes of their role, but recognise that in order to provide these places for kids – whereas in urban centres there would otherwise be none – they have to be there, officially as “supervisors,” in order to secure funding and not have these spaces taken away from kids.

    This is a bit why I feel we should withhold judgment from the Watford Council’s decision – we simply don’t know the context or motivations, and from a more in-depth examination I think see plenty of valid reasons for playworkers to wish parents didn’t linger around the space. What I do feel is a mistake, though, was the Mayor’s decision to give the “fear of predators” rationale – though as I mentioned, I suspect this was just as much a case of sensationalist reporting from The Telegraph, who latched onto this excuse among the many others (and perhaps more holistic explanation) offered by the Mayor.

    Sorry, I wish I could convey all of this better, but I suppose the only thing that will really do the trick is to find one for yourself to visit. But apparently not Watford’s. :p

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