Playgrounds Getting TOO Safe?

Hi Readers — A bunch of you sent me links to this wonderful NY Times story by John Tierney yesterday, about how maybe we have been making playgrounds SO safe that they actually stunt our kids’ development. (Or at least make it too boring for anyone over 7 to want to go play.)

It’s a point I agree with so much that I wrote a piece about the same thing, last year. Here’s a link to that one, too.  Basically, both articles point out that in our desire to eliminate ALL risks, we create new ones, like the risk of kids not getting a feel for what’s safe or not, and not feeling confident about facing the world in general. And not getting exercise!

And here’s an earlier Wall Street Journal article that inspired me, “Why Safe Kids are Becoming Fat Kids.”  (Actually, it’s just a bit of the article because the Journal only gives a chunk, unless you subscribe.) The piece is by Philip K. Howard, who happens to be author of one my favorite, mindblowing books, Life Without Lawyers.

Anyway, here’s to fun on the monkey bars, and maybe some new ideas about playgrounds, too. — L

Wheeeee! This is so developmentally rich!

68 Responses

  1. Don’t know if this has been posted yet, but an excellent article about “teacup” children.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/07/how-to-land-your-kid-in-therapy/8555/

  2. Most German playgrounds would be a US helicopter parent’s nightmare. There are all sorts of climbing structures, high and low slides, swings that go high, metal monkey bars at different heights, real seesaws, zip lines, and merry-go-rounds. A lot of playground equipment here is over sand, grass, or dirt. There are also places where kids can hide and other areas with soccer goals. One playground where I lived before had a big hill that kids could climb up and run down from all sides. That was very popular with kids of all ages. A lot of the climbing structures are made of wood and have big-time splinter potential and the slides are made of metal. When we went to the States when my son was younger, he got bored very quickly with the safe plastic playground equipment.

    I posted this in another thread, but the Kletterwald (climbing forest) is a big hit with the local kids. Kids love being high and getting a feeling of mastery crossing rickety bridges 5 meters off the ground. Kids wear harnesses and helmets, but they can still roam freely over the course at their own pace. The only down side is that you have to pay, but according to my son it’s well worth the cost. Here is the link, which is only in German. Click on “Bildergalerie” (picture gallery) on the left side to see photos of the different activities and courses. There are courses for younger (6 and older) kids and some for kids 12-14 and up.
    http://www.kletterwald-gap.de/

  3. We have a “dangerous” park in my town that is my kid’s favorite. I know many parents that refuse to let their kids play there, prefering the “rubber room” playgrounds that are newer, but not challenging.
    We’ve had birthday parties at this park and one mom said she couldn’t make it as she would never let her child play at such a place! I even offered to “shadow” her daughter or have my older son help her through parts she felt were unsafe, but still, no.

    I haven’t seen this mom since last year, and recently ran into her at the swim club. My youngest daughter(5) just passed her band test, and was going down the big slides in the deep end as I watched on the bench. Our conversation was about how she wouldn’t let her daughter take the band test (even though she’s 8) because she was worried that she would be upset if she failed it. I told her they offer the test every day, so if she failed one day, she could try again the next. My logic didn’t register, and this 8yo is still stuck in the shallow end, looking miserable.

  4. Posts like this remind me of how much I liked my daughter’s old school’s new playground compared to most other modern playgrounds I’ve visited. It came out too fast for me to see it, but one parent told me they’d had a small zip line in there at first, but one girl promptly broke an arm on it sooo… liability, and it was gone. Lasted mere weeks.

    But the rest is better than average in terms of being challenging. Not tall enough, I’ll grant that, but has plenty of deliberately wobbly sections for the kids to play on, including a wobbly balance beam. I don’t even know what to call much of the equipment they have. They have some fair areas for kids who like to climb, not especially high, but at least they’re encouraging kids to climb things that are more challenging than the stairs to the slide.

    It’s not perfect, and lots of parents wish the zip line could have stayed, but we all know why it disappeared so quickly. It’s still a better setup than most playgrounds I’ve seen, especially these days, and the school is good about leaving the gates open outside of school and after school activity hours, so it’s popular with the local kids. My current local school doesn’t even do that.

  5. The Atlantic article is really interesting. I also recommend it highly.

    I am not sure I loved the article because it is based on the philosophy that every action by a parent has a profound effect on a child. I personally think that is a bit over stated and leads to paralysis by analysis.

    However, at the same time, I do agree with the idea that a critical element of maturing is to fail and learn how to overcome failure.

  6. Before reading the rest, you should know that I am entirely for safer playground surfacing. I do not believe that concrete can in any way be better than rubberized surfacing (which I prefer to loose fill because kids can actually run on it… though wood chips would be my choice for those who can’t afford rubberized surfacing). Be sure to read the whole thing… at the very end I veer into a somewhat different topic.

    Those who always read every comment probably knew that I was going to post this here. Anyone who hasn’t read this already (and even those who have) should take the time to read it all, as it deals directly with the issue in Mrs. Skenazy’s post.

    I am currently a 17-year-old boy in Tulsa, OK. Understandably, most of my playground experiences were with the new plastic stuff. Back when I was 4 years old I often went to Whiteside Park, which had a mix of fiberglass and painted wood. I remember a boy named Joe who used to be there many times… he could swing really high on the swings which were still the old chain kind (albeit with a plastic/rubber seat; and they were only 8 or 10 feet tall). AFAIK they still have the same equipment today, including the plastic 10-12′ straight and steep slide (not too many slides are straight anymore). Another park, Darlington, had and still has all-metal equipment (though it’s a really small structure). However, LaFortune is the one I want to write about here. As late as 10 years ago they had old wooden equipment (with metal slides and bars). I remember some very high monkey bars (maybe 8 feet?), a swinging bridge (had to be pretty small… maybe 10′ long tops), and 3 slides, each bigger than the other (top one was maybe 10 feet). Back in 2000 or 2001 or so they changed to new plastic equipment. At the time I was very excited since they had changed from a relatively small structure to two large ones. In 2004 I had the opportunity to visit a playground untouched by litigation-fearful government. My great uncle was about to pass away, and the family took a 1-day trip to Aurora, MO, to see him one last time. Apparently not wanting me to see him in his poor condition, my mom found a playground and told my dad to play with me there (I was 10 at the time). That is an experience I will never forget… there were an old-style metal seesaw, a metal merry-go-round, and a very steep metal slide that had to be at least 15-20 feet tall. Being accustomed to plastic all my life, I was at first afraid of the big slide. From what I recall I eventually got on it and loved it… as well as the other stuff there. From what I see on Youtube some places still have this old-school equipment… but they are mostly in other countries (Germany pops up a lot). After reading this article I realize what has truly become of society today. This is not simply a problem with playgrounds, it extends to all aspects of daily life. The American legal system is becoming too constricting to organizations, often doling out six-figure amounts for accidents that deserve more reasonable payments of zero to four figures (case in point: Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants 1994, aka the Coffee Case). Though consumers may think they are getting a better product from the additional regulations, they are the ones who are really paying for them. Thus the governments force unintended mandatory “insurance policies” upon the people… businesses have to pay more and skimp on the product to meet regulations, and the consumer ends up paying for a few people’s troubles in the form of increased prices or inferior products. Change needs to occur in the law schools before it can occur on the playground.

    If you are older (or have relatives living in rural communities), you may remember the slides and swingsets being bigger than they are today. Many probably tell you that “you were smaller, everything was big”. In most cases they’d be right. However, in this one solitary case, I can confidently say that they are wrong and you are right. While I’ve never (as far as I can recall) seen a 12-16′ swingset, there are [hard-to-find] pictures that prove that they existed. As for the slides, just read my post. Despite the extreme difficulty in finding pictures, I am absolutely certain that they existed (and still do, though straight slides of all kinds over 8 feet are a dying species).

    One particular piece of playground equipment that intrigues me due to its unique history is the Giant Stride. Unlike most playground equipment, these were mostly removed in the 1950s, long before the Age of Litigation began circa 1984 (date chosen on purpose). Google “980 playground equipment” and read the comments on the blog to see more about this intriguing piece of equipment… sure it was probably the most dangerous piece, but it was also the most popular in places that had it. Supposedly Sunrise Park in Paris, Illinois, still has a couple (unless they were removed after the 2008 ruling that any park with one automatically loses any lawsuit related to playground injuries, regardless of the scope of the injury and regardless of what equipment actually caused the injury)

    Here’s a link (remove spaces from link): http : // www . parisillinois . org / index . php ? option=com_content&view=article&id=128&Itemid=148

    If they’re still there, anyone care to go and take a video for Youtube?

    Also, just something I’m curious about. After reading many comments on blogs, I get the feeling that kids back then were more resilient than kids today. Kids back then could fall four feet without it hurting much, and eight feet without getting more than a scraped knee, maybe a sprained wrist at the worst (and often these high falls of 10′ or so were from the aforementioned Giant Strides). Kids in the old days used to jump from 10-foot barn roofs for fun, and one particular comment on another blog described kids purposely jumping down 20-30 feet to slightly inclined ground and getting little more than a sprained ankle. I don’t know how they did it… there wasn’t a secretly required Parkour class in elementary schools back then, was there?

    One example of the last paragraph can be found in these pictures (the sand is supposedly a few inches deep at most… definitely not enough to pass today’s standards for that kind of jump):

    http : // a5 . sphotos . ak . fbcdn . net / hphotos-ak-snc1/4583_85593368861_639953861_2007092_8324144_n . jpg

    http : // a7 . sphotos . ak . fbcdn . net / hphotos-ak-ash1/19355_1333485145994_1497022124_921218_6270406_n . jpg

    http : // a4 . sphotos . ak . fbcdn . net / photos-ak-snc1/v2588/2/18/710507810/n710507810_1954871_5517785 . jpg

    Pictures from “I played at Dennis the Menace Park and lived!” group, remove spaces from links.

    The current Dennis the Menace Playground appears to be a very toned-down version of the old one. I wouldn’t quite say that it’s now only a super-large cookie-cutter playground (which wouldn’t really be the worst thing in the world… most places are not as big as that), but it’s definitely nothing like it was. If someone [rich] were to combine the new and old elements into one park, I’m sure the resulting park would become very popular with kids from around the nation (USA that is). Only thing to worry about would be the lawsuits… and maybe local building codes, though one could conceivably build one in a small town that doesn’t have such stringent regulations.

    Part of the reason the Dennis the Menace Playground was so famous was 1. Its creator was well-known, 2. It was HUGE (one of the biggest playgrounds in the nation, still is pretty big; Hank probably created it as a place that even a super-active kid like Dennis [both the real one and the fictional one] would like), and 3. The likely reason that it maintained its fame through the years is that it was not touched by litigation-fearful people until much later than most playgrounds (the Helicopter, essentially a safer version of the Giant Stride in that both are basically large merry-go-rounds that are high off the ground, was the first thing to go in 1988). One final thought: Watch for some truly innovative (or possibly even retro-throwback) designs in the future. Most things go in cycles (it is simply human nature for people to always be dissatisfied about something… and people tend to get in a hurry and over-correct), and the current downtrend has been particularly vicious (kids are staying inside due to “stranger danger” [stranger abductions are actually lower per capita than they were in the 70s and staying inside with a friend’s parents is statistically MUCH more likely {depending on the math used it could be millions of times more likely} to result in sexual molestation than going outside is since most molesters go after someone they know, also kids are much more likely to be killed in a car accident than abducted], playgrounds are being downsized and boring-ized for the sake of “safety” [in actuality the car ride to the playground is much more dangerous than even the oft-cited playgrounds of the 1920’s… the walk to the playground is a different story though😉 ] and coincidentally [or not], childhood obesity is at its highest since records began… the last point may become the impetus for an upswing). Among those wanting to start the uptrend is Lenore Skenazy, called “America’s Worst Mom” by the paranoia-mongering media (both the conservative FOX and the liberal MSNBC applied that title to her). IMO it is just a matter of time until somebody rich en0ugh to call lawsuit settlements “pocket change” connects the dots (parenting change + playground change = weight change) and starts to actually do something about it. The kids of today will become the adults of tomorrow… and the kinds of adults these kids will become would likely support a very dramatic upswing if they would only hear from someone who could tell them that their kids don’t have to be like they were. Someone like Lenore Skenazy.

    The preceding monologue was copied from a couple of posts I wrote for a comment on the Playgroundology blog (though I have posted an outdated version of that on many blogs, including this one).

    Much of the discussion on another comments thread on this site seems to have shifted to whether playground equipment suitable for teenagers and adults should be built. Looking at pictures from the past (the previously mentioned Dennis the Menace Park FB group), I get the impression that all ages from around 4 to 13 were frequently seen at the non-kiddie areas of DTMP (current playgrounds mainly cater to ages 3-9). Older teenagers were rarely seen there (in fact, the only pictures in that group where the person is unquestionably 14-22 years of age were taken in the last decade… then again, picture quality was not that great back then, so the facial features of kids in the background cannot be identified well; plus it is usually parents of younger children who take pictures at playgrounds [outside of the recent ones which were for “retro appeal”], pretty much ruling out a teen sighting in the foreground). Having said that, I must respond to the question of playground equipment that is meant for teens with an emphatic YES. The line of reasoning is such: Current playground equipment, designed for kids ages 5-12, sees ages 3-9 instead (and an occasional 10-year-old, rarely 11 or older unless they have younger siblings or the park is older [“older” usually means pre-1984]). Design something with ages 11-17 in mind, and you will likely see ages 8-13 frequenting it. I do agree with the point that ages 15 and older will never be nearly as commonly seen as 12 and younger, but why exactly do they have to be? Right now most newer playgrounds are becoming “uncool” or “boring” even with 10-year-olds. The point is to make a playground that truly is for older kids (6+) and not the “5-12 in name only” ones we see so much today… and right now it seems the only way to do that is to tell the architects to design for ages 11-17. So, when will the next Hank Ketcham come up to the plate and dare to swing for the fences? We are sick and tired of base hits… it’s been way too long since we’ve seen a real home run.

    So, what happens when we “dangerize” childhood? “435.15 (3) No diving board or platform more than one meter above the pool or water level shall be permitted for general public use in any swimming pool.”

    Source: Massachusetts State Law

    It is extremely likely that safety was a major factor in the creation of this law. Let’s break down the reasoning behind this law. Roughly 1,000 spinal cord injuries occur due to diving every year. About 3/4 of these involve natural bodies of water. This leaves about 250 per year involving swimming pools. Only 1/10 of swimming pool diving accidents occur from a diving board. Of these 25 or so per year (tiny number… you are more likely to be struck by lightning), only ONE in the past 100 years has occurred in a public pool… and in all irony, this one occurred during a closed practice, so restricting public use would not have affected it one bit. Freak accidents will occur no matter what height the board is, and even a belly flop from the highest operating diving boards/platforms (10 meters above the surface of the water… only four truly open to the public exist in the United States [two more are restricted to membership, which in turn is restricted to residence in particular suburban towns], and zero in the UK… after London 2012 this MAY change to one though based on an article about the facility), though extremely painful, is unlikely to cause permanent damage if the pool has a vigilant lifeguard.

    In conclusion, I am not sure what the legislature of Massachusetts was thinking when they made that law, for when you take major action in an attempt to reduce an already small number (especially when it’s ZERO), you are playing with fire (or fat, as the collective removal of recess from about half of all American public schools will attest to).

    Sources (remove spaces):

    http : // www . sw . org / trauma-center / diving-safety
    http : // www . divingboardsafety . net / MythBusters . pdf
    http : // www . oocities . org / woras . geo / LastWord . htm

  7. I think this issue is a bit overstated as well, and the mention of “paralysis by analysis” is confirmed by the rather long essay above. Merry-go-rounds were dangerous as heck, and I don’t mind not seeing them anymore.

    Kids adapt – they’ll find ways to challenge themselves at even the most “boring” of playgrounds. Which again I believe is vastly overstated here.

  8. The creators of these parks ignore the fact that BOYS thrive on danger and gain social status in their group by doing risky things. That is why you will see boys climbing on the outside of the tube slides, going head first down the slides, and climbing on the things that are not intended to be climbed on.

    Girls benefit from extending themselves on the playground as well. Girls do social stuff differently than boys (the group all getting along) but certainly expand their self worth by trying and doing things that are considered risky. Girls doing the risky stuff on the playground are more willing to try “risky” stuff later….like going into nontraditional careers and roles, because they know from experience that they can do things that others may consider too dangerous.

    I am all for more challenging playgrounds. My kids need them. I need them – really, I need the exercise that climbing around brings. I want my daughter to try things in a somewhat safe area so that she will try things without the net later. I want my kids to get their thrills this way – climbing structures, climbing rocks, doing challenging bike courses, so that they don’t decide to get their thrills through sex, drugs and alcohol later on. I want them to experience options, and I need their friends (who may not be able to afford clubs where everything from swimming to rock climbing is done inside) to experience those options so that they all can think outside the box and find things to do – be it floating on the river in a $5 tube or climbing a tree to get the best view.

    I also find it highly ironic that the street sign for a playground is two kids on a see-saw, yet I only know of two see-saws in the country as the vast majority have been taken out due to liability. Yes, my kids have been on the two that I know of – one in MD, one in WA, both in out of the way places. And at both places, they practiced walking from one end to the other, bouncing each other hard, and standing and balancing in the middle.

  9. I just returned from a 2 week trip to France with my 2 boys (age 6 and 10) and, during our time in Paris, we visited the playground in the Luxembourg Gardens. As I’ve described it since, it was “just dangerous enough to be fun”. They have a large ‘replica’ of the Eiffel Tower done up with bungees to climb on. Think of a spider web crossed with the Eiffel Tower standing about 1 1/2 stories high and you’ll get the idea. There was also an awesome ‘zip line’ course where kids would queue up, sit on a round seat attached to a rope and fling around an elevated track. I so wanted to try it and both of my kids (yes, even the 10 year old) had hours of fun! There were also your run-of-the-mill climbing structures, areas for younger children and a sandbox.

    Kids were climbing playing on everything with abandon and there were NO helmets, NO safety seminars, NO harnesses but LOTS of fun! There were also almost NO parents within arm’s reach of their children, managing the queue line, yelling ‘Be careful! You’ll get hurt’. The fun thing about the sandbox was that the kids were taking water from a nearby fountain and making rivers and mud in a portion of the sandbox and not a single adult stepped in to stop them, claiming it to be too messy. The parents tended to gravitate to the outer edges of the playground and either read books or watch their children play. It was incredible to watch the children work out differences on their own, often not even speaking the same language as there were kids of several different nationalities present.

    I was there with a friend from Canada and her 2 kids and she commented on how this would never be built in Canada. I said the same about the US. Too bad, really, because it was the highlight of the trip for my kids. And for older (age 10) kids to go to a park and have so much time and get a lot of exercise really speaks to the need for having interesting and, yes, slightly dangerous things to do at a public playground.

    I’ve tried to find a site with photos of all the attractions and the best I can do is this (Eiffel Tower in the background of the first photo and zip line in one of the last photos):
    http://www.restlesstoroam.com/2011/05/16/kid-friendly-fun-in-luxembourg-gardens/

    Near the playground is a carousel where kids ride while holding long lance-like sticks and try to get their sticks through various metal rings that are hanging from above as the carousel goes around and around. They have to lean out over the horses and balance in order to get the rings. Again, no helmets, 5-way safety belts, warning lights, high-impact cushions or klaxons but lots of fun.

    As Rick Steves says in one of his France travel guides, the attitude in France is if you get hurt it’s your fault. Words to live by.

  10. I was shocked to see the age posted on the side of the swings at our local park that has a new playground. It says bucket seats are for 2 years and up and the regular swing (only 7 feet high) is for 5-12 year olds. I can’t get over that my son who is just over two is just now suppose to be in the bucket seats. he actually started as soon as he could sit up, so around 5 months old. And now he has progressed onto the regular swing like his 5 year old brother. And they are suggesting that my 5 year old just last year was in the bucket swing? He’d get stuck!
    I’m so glad I don’t pay attention to those signs😉

  11. Dawn in Vancouver: The signs do not have the force of law (although a city official technically can enforce them, though in practice this does not happen, with VERY few exceptions)

  12. My goodness… you just can’t win with these risk-averse parents! Playground floor made of concrete? Not safe. Replace it with rubber? Too hot, in case Precious Princess’ shoes come off. What’s next – replacing the hot, scalding sand at the beach with a material that doesn’t absorb so much heat?

  13. As a child, I find the kind of playground you have in your picture– which was certainly the norm for our childhoods– boring as all get out. There really isn’t a lot of play equipment there. Certainly not compared to the modern playgrounds with climbing and play structures. The average 1970s playground didn’t have water features– it had very little beyond the swings, slides, teetertotters (one always broken) and maybe the spring horses– all single-use equipment.

    Is the argument that the modern playground’s equipment isn’t high enough? We did visit a NYC playground that had no regular swings, just ‘baby’ ones — which seemed pretty dangerous, as older kids were using the swings anyway, and the getting in and out was pretty risky.

    Is the discomfort because tween/teen boys find these too small to play on? (The tween girls seem to enjoy it, but then they also seem to gravitate to smaller children to ‘help’ them, which is a whole other free range issue…)

  14. I remember with great nostalgia and fondness the playground I grew up at. It was made of wood, quite tall (probably 15 or 20 feet), and had sand as a base. It had monkey bars and a tire swing and a metal slide and a fireman’s pole. Of course lots of kids got hurt on it. But who cares? Why is that so bad? Kids get hurt all the time, playing as they should be doing. It’s not usually permanent, except in the great lessons learnt. I got the skin of my palm ripped off in the chains of the tire swing. Lots of guys slipped when running on the monkey bars and banged the family jewels. One guy even took a dive off the fireman’s pole and lodged his front teeth up into his palate. He’s fine. We’re all fine. I think I remember somebody breaking an arm once, and all that meant was a lot of attention and getting out of writing a test. The rest of us were envious. I went back to visit my old neighbourhood, and of course the “Ap”, as we used to call it (for ‘apparatus’) is gone. There’s now a plastic slide at an angle too small to slide on, a bunch of rounded corners, and nothing to excite or challenge anyone. We used to FLY across those monkey bars! What a great way to learn courage (not to mention balance!) Freedom, exhilaration….what other emotions and experiences are we willing to deny to our children? Anybody who claims this is better for kids apparently never WAS a kid. I really, really think that this world would be a much better place if fewer of us went about with the idea that we’re going to tell others what’s good for them.

  15. Just wanted to let you know that there is at least one bright spot here in the U.S. A nearby playground used to be awful: potholed gravel surrounding puddles for the surfacing, steel structures with chipped paint and rust for playing on. Kids didn’t play there because the steel was too hot in summer and too cold in winter and parts of them were sharp. Not to mention the wooden structures, which were all splintery or oozing tar. Middle schoolers went there to stand around and practice looking bored–I mean, mature and sophisticated.

    Whoever designed the new playground deserves a huge raise! The surface is now deep sawdust in the front half and the back half is a steep, tree- and brush-covered slope that was bought from the folks just up the hill. Kids have worn part of the slope down to dirt; the part under the spruce trees is naturally dirt; and they PLAY IN IT. Even middle schoolers. There are roots sticking up everywhere, the little trails on the slope are steep and scary to some kids, and nobody expects this to change. In winter the slope is just right for sledding.

    The equipment on the flat part consists of swings, TWO jungle gym type setups (one rocket slider and one where the bars actually rotate in your hands on purpose), a set of high platforms for balancing, two climbing walls, a kiddy slide with its own high balancing platforms, and a big kids’s slide tower that has the three highest, twistiest, scariest slides in town connected to a set of spiral steps that goes up inside a two-story structure full of interesting viewpoints and places to sit and imagine. And nearly all of this is made of high-impact plastic, so it’s fun in all weathers. The designers even put a heavy-duty wooden bench on a platform just far enough up the slope that parents can sit down and see the whole playground without hovering over their kids. There is also a picnic table under a rowan tree and the less trafficked part of the slope is planted in tough, short grass and sweet clover (which attracts bees, but nobody is complaining) just right for spreading a blanket and dozing in the sunshine.

    The bigger older playground near the athletic track, BTW, has lower slides, but more things to climb in and on and a much bigger rocket slider, plus a metal merry-go-round.

    So there is hope.

  16. I find the picture amusing. Our city is in the midst of pulling out all wading pools (they are dangerous. You never know what germ is in there after all! – Never mind that they have been in place for 40 plus years, sigh) and replacing them with multi million dollar spray parks. Spray parks I might add that are much better for the 5-12 set rather then the 0-7 set the wadding pools were meant for!

  17. The squishy playgrounds might be too boring and safe for older kids, but my 2 1/2 year old loves climbing the rock walls and ladders. 😉

  18. Hi. I posted a question to a MessageBoard of mothers. http://www.youbemom.com/forum/permalink/4459326

  19. I’ve been waiting for this topic to come up again just so I could post this video:

    A lot of the playgrounds in our town (Washougal) and the town next to us (Camas) have merry-go-rounds just like this one. My kids could spend all day on it. They had a blast and I just sat on the bench next to the stroller with the baby. Except for when I left the baby in the stroller next to the bench to take my turn spinning them. I get motion sickness, though, so just spinning them made me ill so I passed it to that guy who was the uncle of the little girl my kids were playing with.

    The rest of the playground is pretty boring. My kids didn’t give it another glance but spent an hour on the merry-go-round until they were all sick and learned a valuable lesson since we still had a 45 minute walk home (or bike ride for my son and middle daughter). They are still begging to go back.

    We also have parks with classic monkey bars and see-saws. Along with more modern versions. The playground at my kids’ school (which has no swings for lack of space) has this “tornado” thing which is a round pad attached to an angled pole. You stand or sit on it and using your own body weight spin the thing around the pole. Or you have a friend help and try not to fall off. I watched the kids play on it until I was sure someone was going to crack a head open and then turned and left them to it.

    Although I prefer that rubber ground surface for my very accident prone 8yo who WILL fall off of things. We were at a playground in Milwaukee, WI a couple years ago (which has the rubber ground cover). She went to play on the swings only to come back to me less than a minute later rubbing the back of her head. I asked what happened and she said she fell off the swing. No sooner had she sat down, she fell back off of it, landing on her head. She was 6 at the time. I asked her if she was hurt, she said no and off she went. That girl can trip standing still. My kids probably prefer sand under their playgrounds although that’s hard to find any more.

    We’ve been lucky to live in some areas with great playgrounds. While living outside of Pittsburgh we found a ton of great parks. The one in Cranberry Township was a favorite. And the playgrounds at Brady’s Run Park (in the different picnic areas) all had the rickety old metal slides, teeter totters and tall swings with the wooden seats. We’ve also found some great modern playgrounds in the Vancouver, WA area that the kid enjoy visiting. They play “Ninja Warrior” by creating an obstacle course through the entire structure… where you never touch the ground. Some of them can be pretty challenging.

  20. I read your post, Lenore, and just had to comment. I believe whole-heartedly in free-range parenting, but I’m still trying to shrug off the paranoia and anxiety that has been programmed into me by society. The park has always made me a little nervous, especially when my son (who is four) would get anywhere near the tall firehouse-style pole. I’d always tell him to stay away from it because he wasn’t big enough.

    Yesterday, my son went with a cousin and my mom to the park – I stayed behind and was going to catch up with them later. When I arrived at the park later, I saw him sliding slowly down the pole (the very one I always warned against) and then run off to climb the fake rock wall (complete with grips and handles) — another thing he’d never done and that also made me nervous. He did all of this with my mom nearby (but never hovering – my mom raised, in addition to me, three very rowdy boys). When my son saw me arrive, he ran up to me, his face sweaty, flushed, and beaming with self-satisfaction, to tell me all the things he’d done by myself. Later, he ran over to the monkey bars and tried to cross to the other side but lost his grip and fell to the ground. Instead of running over to help him, I watched him get up, brush himself off, and go do the other things he knew he could do.

    I felt a pang of shame (though it was mingled with pride at my capable and wonderful little boy) as I thought back at all the times I hovered or cautioned him away from taking risks at the playground. Of course, supervision is important (as in, my mom’s kind of supervision — from a distance) and things need to be age-appropriate (within reason). Had I kept steering him away from risk, I would have missed that beautiful expression on his face. It was seriously a profound parenting moment for me — one that put all the things I’ve learned from your book and this site into real, personal perspective.

  21. My youngest son used to have a t-shirt given to him by my neighbor. It said “I do all my own stunts” and had a stick figure falling down steps.

    My son has always done things that he shouldn’t from the time he was 9 months and learned to walk/climb/run – dancing at the edge of the ladder, letting go of the vertical climbing ladder to wave with both hands, wrecking his bike on the washboard dirt road, climbing on the neighbor’s roof….the list goes on.

    A week ago he had to get stitches for the first time, in his knee. He fell down in the driveway, a few steps from the gate and hit the wrong stone. No, I am NOT going to outlaw walking in the driveway. We joked on the way to the urgent care that he needed to make up a better story for how he got them because no one would believe him after all his other get hurt and get up and go mishaps. Ironically, I think that he is actually more careful when on the climbing walls or outside of the tube slide.

  22. The “safe” park nearest my house is called Everyone’s park as it was designed to be inclusive of special needs children (has ramps for wheelchairs, special harness swings, etc.) I think this park is a great idea (and nice to see kids of all abilities play together.) My kids play there sometimes in the cool months, but it is at least 10 degrees hotter there now, as there is no shade at all. (They took out all of those dangerous trees around the park.)
    My sister’s son got his first stiches (in his chin) when he fell on one of the ramp bridges, and on another occasion broke his arm at this “safe” park.
    I like a variety of parks and honestly think the more the merrier! But no park will ever be safe from accidents, no matter how boring and standardized you try to make it.

  23. Some excellet points. We love the old play equipment and the park near us has a merry go round that my two and a half year old loves. One thing I see touched on in the comments is the hovering. I believe any play equipment can be dangerous if you help your child up onto it. They should be big enough to get onto it so they can be big enough to get off of it. I think lifting your kid up on to something is just asking for trouble. Sit back and see what your kid can do, it’s more relaxing anyway.

  24. Robin, on July 22, 2011 at 01:36 said:
    Hi. I posted a question to a MessageBoard of mothers. http://www.youbemom.com/forum/permalink/4459326

    Hi Robin, I’m not going to sign up for that message board because I don’t think I could stand it. But here is my response to your question:

    Dd(17yo) was certainly going to the park when she was 7yo, and it was across our street and behind the houses on the other side. I was playing in that same park at 6yo, same situation, it was across a (different) street and behind the houses from my house.

    Since our neighbor hood is much “safer” now – ie. there hasn’t been a rape or other violent crime in our neighborhood since I was six. I would still let a child that age go to that park.

    The last violent crime in our neigborhood was three months before we moved in when I was almost six. It was in the fall, and the next summer my mom let me go to the park alone or with my 3 1/2 yo brother. (in the winter the park is covered in so much snow you can’t see the monkey bars anyway, lol, we ice skated in the winter instead)

    My mom did make friends with the retired neighbors directly across the street from us so that we could go through thier yard to get back home the “short way”, and so we would have a safe place that was closer than home to go to. And that was something I did too.

  25. I appreciate all the thoughts that go into what would make an ideal playground for our kids but I’m still hung up on all the emphasis being placed on playgrounds as necessary components for a child to play. I’m of the mindset that anywhere a child plays is his/her playground -however informal and uncomplicated it may be. Give a child a piece of chalk,a rubber ball and some rope, along with some guidance and plenty of imagination and a playground will be born. It worked for us when we were kids and there is absolutely no reason it wouldn’t work today.

  26. At our local park in the city I grew up in, there is a man-made lake and fake rocks with an artificial “stream” from the lake running among them. Some of the rocks are quite big, but they provide a great natural feeling and challenging playground. You can climb from rock to rock, jump from one side to another across the water, etc, making your way from one side to the other using your judgement of where to step and how high you can jump, etc. It was always my favorite thing to do as a child. About 3 or 4 years ago, my family and I went to Tennessee and visited the Smokey mountains, where we found a natural river with huge, real rocks that made my hometown playground set up look like gymboree class. It was so exhilarating and amazing to play in that river and I know it’s not something I would have known how to do, or had the courage to do if I had not navigated the rocks at the playground for so many years. However, when recently went back to the park, there was a very clear “No climbing on the rocks” sign nearby. Of course I climbed on them anyway because I’m an overgrown kid at heart, but I got told off by park security😦 It makes me so sad to know that my daughter won’t be able to freely climb on those rocks like I did. The thing is, if you look at the rocks in the park, they were clearly designed for someone to play on them. Some rocks are easier to get on and down from than others, some jumps are easier to make, allowing you to progressively challenge your comfort level. But none of the jumps or heights are unfeasible. Every rock is climbable, every height achievable, which is not what you would expect if they were simply put there for decoration. Whoever designed these rocks knew how cool they were and WANTED kids to play on them. And now they can’t.

  27. Okay, I just posted above, but here is a picture of the rocks I was talking about in the park:
    The Rocks of Lafreniere Park

  28. @Kyohaku said, Kids back then could fall four feet without it hurting much, and eight feet without getting more than a scraped knee, maybe a sprained wrist at the worst

    Maybe because we started out when we were a year old, falling down and learning how to do it better, then at three, running and falling, and getting better at it, bailing off the merry-go-round when it was going slow and learning to compensate for the Gs by landing at a run, learning to roll down a hill and then learning to roll with a fall so it hurt less.

    I used to leave the house when the babysitter thought I was napping by dropping from the roof over the kitchen – only a 1-story addition, but I was maybe 5. Dangle, drop, land bent-kneed and roll to take up the shock.

    Yes, some of my friends broke bones, some needed stitches, and I have a nice hoof-print visible on x-rays where a horse I had no business going near planted a hoof in my ribs as a warning.

    But the big lesson was that pain is not going to kill you, wounds can be dealt with, and what parents say is dangerous is REALLY going to hurt.

  29. @stephanonymous:
    Wow, sounds like it was really wonderful. “Park security”? Is there such thing? Not where I live, thankfully. Parks are for kids, not security guards. Sheesh…

    I wonder that nobody’s mentioned the amount of damage to one’s health that stress can inflict. A colleague is put out because her doctor told her that although she is careful with her health and her husband smokes and drinks, he will likely outlive her. The reason? Stress. It’s a killer on a grand scale. We’d ALL be better off just calming the hell down. Especially about kids.

    Here where I live, due to a misunderstanding, cops broke a window of a minivan to take a baby out on a hot day. You should see the vitriol of the commenters on that forum: take her kids away! Bring back capital punishment! I’m not kidding. It’s ugly.

    Some of my fondest memories of my childhood are tied up in that dangerous, old climbing apparatus. I miss it a lot.

  30. In the Trenches: yeah, park security, lol! It’s a big park, so I can sort of understand. They even ride around on golf-cart like vehicles.

  31. @ Cheryl W

    My 7 year old sounds the same…and he had the SAME shirt!

    I swear from the time he was a toddler he ‘knew’ how to fall….always got right back up….had no fear. He’s the one I dressed in orange so I could see him from across the playground.

    On a recent trip upstate he decided he wanted to know how to flip off the diving board. He asked an older boy how to do it. Mastered in about an hour. Then he wanted to do a running flip off the diving board. The only time I intervened was when I saw him run and then try to come to a screeching stop at the end of the board. I told him, you don’t have to attempt the flip, just run off the end if you’re not ready, but don’t try to stop (it was the only time he came close to hitting the board).

    (I was a lifeguard for many years and there were two on duty. It was a safe board and a diving well. He has been an independent deep water swimmer since he was 4 and has been going off boards since he was 2). He went off that board 100 times, easy. Was so proud of himself too. He is definitely an adrenaline junkie…When a playground lacks challenging equipment, my son is the one scaling the outside of the structure.

    I always wonder about Evil Kinevil’s mother…did she watch or look away?

  32. Taradlion, my son is 6.5, they should get together sometime! He will start playing with some boy, and climbing on things, then the other mother will tell her son not to do it, it is dangerous. Well, not for my son, he knows what he can do. He is not totally fearless, just understands his body.

    Those flips sound great! The pool we go to (because it is indoors and we can go year round) is only 5 feet deep, so no diving. I suspect he would do it if I let him. But, I was a lifeguard too, and no, no flips, not at that pool!

    Our favorite park has two climbing rocks. One is “easy” (but I have seen adults have issues with it) and the other is definitely “hard” with shear faces and overhangs. My son was 5 when he mastered it, and really impressed the teens who thought they had a place to get away from the little kids! I do appreciate that they made this park so that kids and adults can challenge themselves, and I have never seen a kid get hurt, but another mom heard from another mom that some kid did get hurt. (I will bet it doesn’t happen often!)

    Hmm, Evil’s mom – well, my mom looked away when my brother and I were at the top of the tree. I tend to look and cheer him on and try not to get too “watch out for the small branches – they can break!” Although, thinking back, my brother was one who did things like Evil – standing on the seat of his banana bike and letting go of the handles (I think he got that directly from Evil) and I suspect that some of the time my mother was in the house getting ready to go to the emergency room as my brother got more than his share of stitches. I will have to ask her sometime….

  33. @ Cheryl

    Love it. We went with my husband’s aunt to a great hotel (she treated and went to golf) There was a man-made cliff for jumping into deep pool. You could jump from three heights and he worked his way up to the highest (higher than a high dive)…the teen and 20 something boys LOVED him because he would say to any adult or child standing on the edge contemplating it, “Hey, I’m 6. I was scared, but if I can do it, so can you” (Of course I had to laugh because, wanting to sound cool for the teen boys he’d say to them, “hey dude, I did it”).

    And totally agree about not all pools being diving pools. I love diving boards with wells, but after an accident in a pool that was too shallow for diving (stucco bottom and my face age 14) we don’t dive everywhere and have lots of feet-first-entry-only spots too. Evaluating for real risk….

  34. Re resilience in children: In first grade, or close to it, our gym teacher spent a week teaching us how to fall down. Her lessons came rushing back to me the time I tripped on something in the long grass at the edge of a rocky slope, and may have saved me from being more badly hurt than I was. Do schools do that anymore?

  35. Hmmm… I don’t know, but now that you said that, I remember “learning to fall” (or being taught to fall) in ice skating lessons…

  36. I always kind of figured being free range wasn’t about lobbying for safer playground equipment OR more thrilling playground equipment. If communities want to make playground equipment safer, I don’t see the problem. In all the playgrounds I’ve been to there have been plenty of high places to climb and tall slides to go down. (I googled NY playgrounds to see images and they all looked like there were high slides, swings, and places to climb. Admittedly merry go rounds and see saws are rare.) Parks are designed safer, but so what? We forget how resilient kids can be. They will find ways to use their imaginations and run, play, and climb. (Trees are wonderful for this.) 🙂 A long time ago there were no playgrounds, yet kids used their own devices to find places to run, jump, and climb. I think as free rangers most of us are happy to encourage our kids to be creative and not feel like we need to provide them with tall enough slides, see saws, and other equipment. If they are not used to being entertained, they will be just fine. Probably better than fine. 😉

  37. […] Playgrounds Getting TOO Safe? (freerangekids.wordpress.com) […]

  38. Not exactly on the subject of playgrounds but today I took my 7 year old son to an old quarry to swim. The water is extremely deep. People were jumping off cliffs into the water. I jumped from about 15 foot, I’m a bit of a chicken. My son continually jumped from about 25 foot. He was so proud of himself. He told me that several of the teenage boys up on the higher bluffs with him told him he was brave and they never jumped when they were as young as him. He was beaming! Sorry to be off subject, I read the comment about the height on diving boards and it made me think of our awesome day today🙂

  39. Both my children (now grown up) did adventure type holidays and things that involved danger. My son has physical disabilities but it did not stop him

    If you ever go to Scotland this looks particularly good ( although you have to pay
    http://www.creamogalloway.co.uk/activities/adventure-playground

    and the icecream is particularly good too

  40. When I was a kid my primary school yard (basically a big playground had following things: an axed tree on its side(basically a stem on its side with a couple of branches interwining which was my fav) it had two black board sets which had a roof(and basically were used for the teenager in love writing their messages on it with a permanent marker lol) it had climbing rack in the shape of a sailing ship(steel tubes)
    it had a balance training thing which was basically a horizontal wooden pole connected with chains onto two smaller vertical poles so that it was free swinging. it had a hexagonal shaped climbing and playing rack on which one side was a reck(horizontal bar) and the other side (two sides further on ) had a bar which had a rope dangling on it.

    I moved from this town where the school was but every now and then I returned there and have a look to at my old school

    first the the dangling horizontal pole was removed (a child broke its ankle) later on the the stem with the branches (I loved them it had a place in it which was like a cockpit) was removed, the black boards were removed were removed(they were also in favour of being used to climb on to of the board under the roof) and the hexagonal thing was removed(we used to climb on the horizontal bar and jumped from there to the bar where the rope was dangling from (trying to reach the bar it was fixed on)
    also the sand boxes had wooden stumps around it which were removed. and they added a new playground thingie which didnt have sand or just plain concrete but it had the rubber matting(I never liked it because it sucks to walk on it)

    So unfortunately in the time since I was a primary schooler to nowadays they removed most of the fun things.

    (ironically I wonder how it came they fixed the one playground thing with the rubber matting because it had a metal slide on it which gets pretty hot in summer…)

  41. […] My new post at Cato at Liberty, following on a theme pursued by NYT science writer John Tierney, looks at some of the risks of trying to make children’s play too safe. More: UK Telegraph (”Health and safety fears are taking the joy out of playtime.”); Lenore Skenazy, Free-Range Kids. […]

  42. I remember my days on the playground as a kid. One of our biggest pleasures was running to the “monkey bars” – a solid metal giant structure that was crazy fun to master. We learned how to do all kinds of things that kids today will never learn to do and falling off into the sand was just a part of doing business. I remember doing flips with one knee over the highest bar as a sign that you were totally bad-ass. Parents seeing kids do that now would have a stroke.

    The fact that the thing was solid metal was a learning factor of it’s own. You learned how to touch it when it was hot, how to navigative when it was damp with dew; we got calluses and we got dirty and it was amazing fun. You learned to be careful and safe because a mouth full of metal on your way to the ground would not be a fun experience.

    When they tore it down in the 90’s for one of those plastic structures, all us old “kids” were heartbroken. And what they replaced it with seemed….ugly, small and far too tame. There was simply no way it could hold a classroom full of kids the way the other structure had. And rather than it constantly being covered with kids, it always seemed abandoned except for the smallest children.

    It never ceases to amaze and sadden me, the experiences and growth opportunities that parents will deprive their children of in the name of “safety”. It’s not parenting, it’s cossetting and we are all worse off for it.

  43. We live in South Korea right now, stationed here by the military. The Korean parks here are AMAZING! Our kids love the 2-3 story slides (yes, that’s right) and all the other FUN stuff. My 8.75 year old even loves these parks. But the ones on the American bases aren’t nearly as fun – because they are so “safe”.

  44. Since becoming a mother two years ago i have become increasingly aware of childrens parks and play equipment. We live in the south west corner of australia and from what i can see, we have not yet started to make the parks too safe. I dont belive that new parks are aloud to be made of certain materials ie metal slides ect. But besides that they are getting fantasticaly inventive. We went to one today that was a whole obsticle course of flying foxes and monkey bars, slides and bridges. Granted, one wrong footing and there could be some nasty strains, sprains and bruises but that didnt and wont stop the little tykes from scrambling over the threshold like they’re competing for the Gold. My son cant manage most of the equipment but he will sure try. He will try and fail and try and fail until that wonderful day comes when his chubby little toddler leg pushes him up that rope ladder and he conquers the world. until such time we will continue to kiss the scraped knees and the bruised ego and enjoy the multitude of parks in our area, offering a plethora of challenges and rewards.

  45. I miss the monkey bars of my Queen, NY childhood. That was always my favorite part of the playground. I just showed the NY Times photo of them to my 8-year-old and he said “Where is that? Can we go?!” Sadly, no, not without a time machine.

    The photos of the obstacle course place in Germany are amazing! my almost 15 year old would especially love to go there.

    If anyone knows of monkey bars on Long Island, please post!

  46. @taradlion I learned to fall in Ice Skating class also. I was at the rink as an adult and this woman was upset about them teaching her daughter to fall. I interrupted and told her – if you skate you will fall. Just like if you learn to walk you will fall learning. Then I explained that learning to fall ice skating saved my face at least 2 times as an adult. Both times I tripped, and pulled my arms in, covered my face and rolled. Both times I hit the sharp edge of a sidewalk with my arms instead of my face.

  47. “They should be big enough to get onto it so they can be big enough to get off of it. I think lifting your kid up on to something is just asking for trouble. Sit back and see what your kid can do, it’s more relaxing anyway.”

    My family’s rule for tree climbing has always been “no helping a smaller child- if you can’t climb it yourself, you shouldn’t be in it”. Yesterday we were at a park with friends, and a 12yo convinced my 17yo to lift him into tree that had all the lower branches removed. The first branches were about 9 feet up. I reminded them of the rule, and the 12yo assured me he could handle it; I decided to sit back and watch. Sure enough, when he was ready to come down, he chickened out. It took 10 minutes of coaching from 3 moms to get him to finally swing down from the lowest branch. His hands slipped, and he hit hard, but got up grinning.

    We’ve lived in this town for 11 years, and we’ve gradually seen all the best parks “upgraded” to newer, and much less fun, equipment. As our kids grow, it’s harder and harder to find a place where we moms can meet and visit without the kids griping about being bored.

  48. I think this is true in all aspects of life. We are beginning to get the feeling that if we are allowed to do something then it must be absolutely safe. I even find that thought running through my head sometimes and I didn’t grow up in a world where everything was made perfectly safe for me.

    We had an incident in Dallas a year or two ago, where a teen-aged girl (16, I think) forced the door open on her school bus which was traveling on a busy street. She ended up getting run over and dying. Very sad.

    Guess what all the articles and news stories were about. Teaching kids that their actions can have serious consequences? Wrong! Every story (and the interview with the teen’s relatives) mentioned making school bus doors impossible to open from the inside while the bus is moving.

  49. The best playground, in my going-back-40-years experience, is an acre or two of completely undeveloped, unmaintained trees and bushes at the corner of a nearby cow-pasture. Wow – climbable trees where you MIGHT break your neck, brush piles where there MIGHT poisonous snakes, squirrels that MIGHT have rabies, a creek or pond where you MIGHT drown… and it MIGHT be hours before any of the grownups realized that something horrible had happened to the group of grade-schoolers out “exploring” this vast, uncharted wilderness without adult supervision.

    And, of course, we had our BB guns with us because there MIGHT be bears in them-there woods!

  50. When I was a kid, there was a gigantic alder grove right in the heart of the housing district on the local Coast Guard base. It was on flat ground–an old gravel lot that used to have Quonset huts on it or something, I think. The local species of alder tree looks like a bush even when it’s 15 feet tall, so the grove was full of secret hidey holes, green tunnels, and tiny clearings open to the sky but invisible from the outside. It was the best play place ever, summer and winter, but it was bulldozed long ago. At least it was bulldozed for more housing, not for “safety.’

  51. I do miss the old-school playgrounds, but I wonder how much of that is romantic nostalgia. It’s not as if the kids don’t learn how to be risky with the new stuff. So they climb outside and on TOP of the tunnel connecting one elevated structure to another instead of going inside and through the tunnel, or they crawl across the TOP of the monkey bars, or they jump off the top of the tallest slide to the ground – or they climb trees in the park – but they can manage to find something to make their parents nervous, no matter how “safe” the playground is.

    Are structures really lower? They do seem that way to me, but I wasn’t sure if it’s because I’m not a kid anymore and I was remembering the height relative to my height then.

    ] Merry-go-rounds were dangerous as heck, and I don’t mind not seeing them anymore.

    We have at least two merry go rounds in our area. They are the favorite part of the park for my kids. They fall off the merry go round frequently (as well as jump on while it’s moving) but they’ve never gotten more than a bruise for their many endeavors. I’m not sure how merry-go-rounds qualify as “dangerous as heck.” It’s not as if you’re falling far when you fall, but they are at least high enough off the ground that if you get caught under it (as my kids have), it spins above you. It’s not like it chops your legs off.

  52. My campus has both monkey bars and chin up bars. (I can’t see doing the flip with one knee hooked on what I call monkey bars.) We have 2 monkey bars. One is old school straight and grey metal. The other is part of the “Blue Toy”, so just 10 years old. It is actually harder to do because it zig zags.

  53. A relative of mine posted this video on Facebook a while ago, and he and I (both old enough to remember the unsafe playgrounds of the past) agreed that not only would we have wanted to try that equipment as kids, we kind of wanted to try it now too.

    http://digg.com/news/offbeat/the_worst_playground_idea_ever_video

  54. P.S. Of course, we’re also so old that we’d probably break our necks instead of just getting up and shaking it off like the kids in the video. Sad but true!

  55. I feel like contributing some tales from British playparks. If American “helicopter moms” are bad, the British tradition of bodyguardish mothering is hell, and the playparks usually match it. Disclosure: I’m 14 and British, so I have a vested interest in getting paranoid parents out of kids’ lives.😉 (The worst of British parenting paranoia isn’t in playparks, it’s in allowing kids out alone – I live in a suburb of a larger town next to the sea in Scotland, the sort of area that people move to to have a family, with an absolutely minuscule crime rate, and am not allowed out of my street alone, even down to the beach across the road – but that’s a rant for another time. I also have plenty of horror stories about the Social Services dropping in on families I used to know, and my classmates have endless tales, some of them rather tall, about families put under constant surveillance by the Met’s social service arm in west London, but I’d rather not spread unnecessary FUD.)

    One: the park in the street I used to live in. At our old house in a small town in middle England, there was a park at the end of the street. In it was a monkey frame (like the picture in the New York Times article, but smaller), a swing set, a large treehouse-type thing with walkways made of wood and rope connecting it to a wooden frame with slides and climbing walls, and a merry-go-round. When my parents were at work, I would tell the childminder that I was allowed out (I was about 7, so wasn’t allowed out of the house alone), ran down there, and played on it like a rabid monkey. I somehow managed to knock a tooth out on the merry-go-round (I don’t recall the exact circumstances, for anyone thinking ‘how the hell…?’), but, apart from that, never sustained any significant injury. How I was never caught, I don’t know. By the time I was 9, however, it’d been knocked down and replaced with a rather pathetic plastic slide on rubberised material. The reason that I didn’t go back was half that, at 9, I was a little old for playparks, and half that it just looked a bit rubbish.

    Two, the slide my friend almost owned. When I was about 8, I was friends with this grubby, obnoxiously cheerful, slightly younger, significantly richer boy. His family owned a few acres of land, most of which sat around unused. We used to joke that it was only to show off their money, and that one day they were going to buy the whole town. At one point, this family tried to buy what had once been a public park but that was by then out of use and locked up by the council. Because the family had expressed interest in buying it, the council let them tour it as they wished, and my friend elected to take me with him. At the back of this park was a hill, on which was a kind of scrubby forest, and there was a very long metal slide built into the side of the hill. Needless to say, after a few goes on it, we were caught, and subsequently banned from going in there until the slide was knocked down (which it never was; the kid’s family never bought the land, iirc). I, however, got off easy; while I was banned from slides for a while, my friend ended up tagged with some sort of tracker by his astronomically overbearing parents. With parenting like this, who needs the police?

  56. And to celebrate how safe playgrounds are getting, one could start a collection of CYA playground signs that nobody really cares about. I’ve been taking pictures of those and here are the top 2 that I found the most entertaining:
    1- “WARNING – INSTALLATION OVER A HARD SURFACE SUCH AS CONCRETE, ASPHALT, OR PACKED EARTH MAY RESULT IN SERIOUS INJURY OR DEATH FROM FALLS.”, ok but it doesn’t stop there… after scarring you like that they add the name of the company with their tag line: “Putting The Fun Back Into Playgrounds”…. Risk of death and fun back in playground… just too weird.

    2- “Playground is made of CONDITIONED WOOD” (so far so good) “… and contains no arsenate or heavy metals.”… What the? Did I need to know that, I just wanted to have a good time.

    Oh well, it would be good to hear from others who have seen such signs.

    Thanks for bringing this up.

  57. Way off topic – Our town playground had a left-over fell engine (used for 3-line railway lines, the centre rail being one to grip in very steep inclines), and we used to crawl through the rusty floor to get to the engine room – this was far more fun than going through the legitimate door! You had to crawl up through all the wheels….Of course it got too old, and now it’s in a museum, beautifully restored but not as much fun for the kids.

    Old tractors were another fun attraction, which also seem to have gone by the by. I guess kids probably hurt themselves with the cranks at the front – I know we whacked each other occasionally in the head while not paying sufficient attention! Usually the child who got whacked retaliated with a biff to the offending child, but we don’t seem to allow kids to solve their problems in that manner these days – a shame, because it was fairly effective….:-)

    Final thing I miss is those wonderful big swings that looked like logs attached to metal frames that could take four or five kids – a guaranteed head injury if you walked behind them, but huge fun.

    Our local playgrounds have also become very sanitised – if you want a decent one you have to go to the school playgrounds. Fortunately most schools around here are resisting attempts to make their playgrounds too safe – they rightly consider a bit of challege more important than worrying about the odd broken bone. Which can happen on any form of equipment BTW, however ‘safe’ – my then 4-year-old dropped 12 inches from a geodesic frame and broke two bones in her leg – just fell the wrong way….

  58. OMG. This is one I 100% agree with you on. My children go to a public school in California. They are no longer allowed to RUN on the playground. My son came home with a red slip for running while playing tag (which, I’m sure, is SO fun while WALKING). I signed it and wrote back “please don’t give my child red slips for EXERCISING AT RECESS. I will accept full responsibility if he falls and scrapes his knee”.

  59. Christie, that’s insane! How are you supposed to play tag while walking? Mindboggling…..

  60. In good news, the resources and materials for planning events for PlayDay (Wednesday 3 August in the UK), a celebration and encouragement of children’s play, make clear that ‘children benefit from challenging play spaces’ and tells people to be ‘mindful
    of balancing the risks with the benefits of
    challenging play opportunities’.
    http://www.playday.org.uk/playday_campaigns/playday_2011.aspx

  61. Christie – please don’t blame the school it will be in response to other parents that WILL blame the school if their child falls over whilst running. It is impossible to have a rule for one child and not for others. If you really want to change the school rules in this matter I suggest you join the P&C and talk with other parents. As a teacher my playground duty is full of telling kids “walk don’t run” or “no climbing trees” or “no big balls in the playground” or “no wrestling” , I hate it but we have to do it otherwise we will be considered negligent.

  62. I don’t know about them being too safe or whatever. I do know that my kids are at playgrounds regularly. We actually will drive way out of our way to visit faraway playgrounds just to have a different one to go to. I look up playgrounds in different cities we visit to take them to. I am all about it.

    I am a rarity among most moms I know with this. Some moms will take their kids and its a rare treat. With us when the weather is tolerable we are there everyday at various playgrounds. Don’t know if safety has anything to do with it. More like most parents I know just are not outdoorsy people. My old next door neighbor never took her children outside. Ever. Her husband would when he was not out of town for work but she never took them out. I was starting to wonder if she was agoraphobic. I would offer to watch her kids so they could go outside and play with mine and she would let them so her kids liked outside, she just hated it apparently.

    Some playgrounds around here are always busy and some are always deserted. Not sure why. Mostly location I bet. One of the more popular playgrounds in our town though has ziplines and a huge 3 story high slide. It is also completely shaded which is a SUPER bonus.

    I would say that shade plays a huge part in the popularity of a playground. If the playground has no shade than in the Summer the slides get too hot to slide on. So only way you can play is late at night or early in the morning. That keeps the moms and kids away. I have been advocating for shade structures to be put up on playgrounds and for them to plant trees and keep trees when building a playground for shade. With skin cancer being a huge thing we have to protect our kids from and with hot areas without shade or at least water features, a playground is not much good to us.

  63. Another sad result of “safe” playgrounds is that many modern play grounds lack swings. This is depriving children from experience a movement that many of their bodies need. I have worked as an occupational therapist in different school systems, in different states. One area occupational therapist address is the sensory needs of a student. Many students need and benefit from swinging. The motion (our body registers as vestibular input) helps their body be more organized. There are countless times that I would recommend to a teacher to work in swinging to a child’s regularly daily routine to help the child be more organized and better attend to school work, and then find out that the school doesn’t have a swing set! When I would ask colleagues why they would say b/c of safety concerns. I then learned that the people making decisions about a schools playground equipment often do not know much about developmentally a child’s physical needs. I was shocked when I first encountered this about 7 years ago, but I have run into again in multiple schools in 2 different states. To the people reading this, if you can influence your local public school, please help preserve the swing sets in our schools.

  64. @Brigette keep up advocating. The SPED Councilor, OT, and PT that work on our campus brought this up. That helped our principal in his fight to keep the orginal late 1960’s era swings on our playground.

  65. Or, Brigette, it may be that swings take up a disproportionate amount of space given the number of children who can play on them at any given time.

    People often point to the “loss” of a particular type of playground structure (swings and see-saws are the biggies, merry-go-rounds are third, although I tell you I never saw a merry-go-round in the US until I was a grown-up, and now I know of several in my city!), but as I said in response to this very article on my own journal, I wonder how much of this is really driven by safety and how much is based upon different ideas of how play should be organized.

    You see, in general, fewer isolated bits of equipment (here is the slide, there is the monkey bars, there is the jungle gym) with a single purpose, and more connected structures on which many children can play at a time in many different ways.

    That, in turn, means there’s less space for equipment that can’t be integrated into a design that encourages imaginative, free-form play – less room for swings, or see-saws. And sometimes that can be mixed up with safety concerns, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only issue. It may be that the people at the school said “We only have so much space, and if we put in a swingset that means 6 kids can play in that space, but if we put in this different structure we could have 14 kids playing in that same space, and they could be playing lots of games instead of just trying to manipulate the swing to go higher and higher”.

    That doesn’t mean swingsets are bad. I’m just trying to show an alternative hypothesis for the lack of swingsets in some playgrounds.

  66. (And the same could go for “why aren’t the swing chains longer”, in places that have swings. The longer the chains are, the more space is required around the swingset. You really can’t have a tag game going on in the same place people are swinging, or hopscotch. You can’t put a slide where the swings go back and forth. Shorter chains mean you have more space for other things.)

  67. […] Free Range Kids – Lenore Skenazy made plenty of enemies a few years ago when she shared that she let her nine year old son ride the New York subway – alone. Lenore’s message is a simple but important one – yes, we need to be mindful of safety, but we need to chill the hell out. Our neighborhood is not as dangerous as the 24 hour news stations would like us to believe. Crime rates are down from what they were when we were kids in the 70s and 80s, contrary to what the media tells us. Be safe, but give your kids a childhood that allows them to learn how to handle themselves in the real world, even if it means some skinned knees along the way. Here’s an example of her content: Playgrounds getting TOO safe? […]

  68. So 1) It’s 0330 here in TN, I’ve been reading since 11pm. I’m hooked. And 2) This one resonates most soundly with me right now. My son just turned 2 in October, and I wouldn’t say I’m terribly hover-y, he’s pretty cautious on his own; he actually likes to hold my hand, and usually warns me (wants me to watch) when he does something potentially ouch-inducing, like jump off the table onto the couch. However, when it comes to the playground, and generally being in public, I turn into this awful stiffling mother, who doesn’t let him do anything! Everyone tells me to relax, let him be a kid (most of the time, I trust him, but I am terrified of someone calling me a bad mother, and I also don’t want him to annoy people..uh, lol, he’s 2..).
    Just after his 2nd birthday some family friends and my son, hubby and I went to a “farm”, that had goats, chickens, riding ponies, and of course..the dreaded old wooden playground. I did fine around the animals; my parents have horses and goats and such; even let him ride the pony by himself (He did awesome, yay!). But then he ran off to the playground, and I freaked, because it wasn’t the newer kind with ramps and such, it had rope ladders and big loopy slides. By the time I caught up with him, he was already climbing the rope ladder like a tiny pro, and his 3 yr old girlfriend kindly informed me that I could go sit with her mom, they would be ok. He had the opportunity to navigate something I thought was for older kids, assessed it on his own, and went for it. I was really proud of him, and he had such a blast on that stupid thing, we stayed there for almost 3 hours😀
    Thanks so much for what you’re doing. Maybe we can reclaim our kids from government and laws, and actually give them good, normal childhood memories❤

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