Where Have All The Jungle Gyms Gone? Long Time Passing…

Hi Folks! Here’s a great article from the L.A. Times about one of our recurring themes: The dumbing down of playgrounds to the point where they are, well, pointless. The writer, Gale Holland, reports:

Last fall as state inspector strode into Great Beginnings preschool and declared the tree house and climbing structure too high. They would have to come down or be surrounded by extra padding.

The metal ladder to the playhouse, which had been there 30 years, could pinch the children, said Beverly Wright-Chrystal, a state child care licensing representative. Also, a log worn smooth by generations of boys and girls playing horsy and hide-and-go-seek would have to be sanded and painted because of a potential “splinter hazard,” Wright-Chrystal determined.

How have we evolved to a society that sees splinters, blood and lawsuits every where we turn? Especially in light of my hero Phillip Howard’s contention that (according to the LA Times piece) there is no data showing an increase in playground injuries or lawsuits!

We are drunk on safety and hallucinating pink liability issues. (Elephants are too big to safely be hallucinated anymore.) Time to sober up and let kids have fun. — L.

71 Responses

  1. Nice Kingston Trio reference in the title. Haven’t thought about that song in a long time.

  2. When my older daughter was six, she got a splinter in her hand at school. It was a long splinter (over a quarter-inch), fairly thick, and in the middle of her palm, where it hurt horribly. It was the kind of thing that makes parents wince when they see it, but not the kind that causes long term problems. I looked at it and knew this was “pull splinter, apply antibiotic, tell kid not to grab things with that hand for the rest of the day.” In two days, she would’ve forgotten it ever happened — except.

    The school called me out from work to come get her, to take her home, remove the splinter, and (presumably) bring her back to school (I didn’t bother) — because they had nobody on staff who could operate a pair of tweezers. I was told this was because of “liability issues.”

    So of course, if there’s a “potential splinter hazard,” a school would need to eliminate that, because they’re not equipped to deal with extreme medical emergencies like splinters.

  3. Exactly. We’re not making things safer for kids because things [i]need[/i] to be safer… we’re doing it only because of liability. Then parents go home with that attitude and all of a sudden you have 12 year old kids that have never even emptied a dishwasher.

    Playgrounds are a joke nowadays. Do monkeybars even exist anymore? They tore the one down that I grew up with about 10 years ago. Nothing but plastic and boring, unimaginative things to do.

    Today I let my 14 year old daughter take public transit with her friends for a sleepover at one of their houses. I’m sure there’s parents out there that cringe at that. I can’t wait to meet these hyperparents someday and ask them how it feels to live in fear.

  4. I was born in 1942 and I’m a “PLAYGROUND SURVIVOR”!

  5. The cognitive dissonance is making me particularly crazy lately. So, healthy and constructive things like real junglegyms and independence for children are condemned as a matter of course, but the things which actually harm kids, like befouling the air and water (as a side effect of industrial activities like fracking or mountaintop removal mining) or more mundanely like perpetuating autocentric culture or building play structures from toxic materials are fair game, not to be naysay-ed or second guessed.

    It’s very hard to explain this to my son, who at 9 notices that the monkeybars are disappearing. The explanation that people are worried someone might get hurt just doesn’t gibe when it’s clear that no one cares who gets hurt by the economic expansion at any cost juggernaut.

    Clearly, it’s all about money. Which twists things such that kids are deprived of things they need to develop healthily in the name of avoiding legal liability and associated expenses and exposed to things that poison them also in the name of protecting profitability. The children’s needs are discounted right and left. Who loses? We all do.

  6. I don’t think nurses and doctors are trained to remove splinters, either. It is generally assumed that any one with common sense can do this. So I am not sure where the liability would lie for the school: did they skip splinter-removal training? Shame on them. Did they not ask if the kids are allergic to medicines such as antibiotic ointment (is this even possible)? As one who tends to picked for juries, I swear I would never vote a dime for this kinds of “liability.” I do not know anyone who would. Or perhaps, more accurately, I don’t want to know anyone who would.

  7. All the playground equipment was ripped out of our school yard over the summer – a geodesic climbing structure, swings, monkey bars, crossing bars that had all been there for many years and a beloved large wooden play structure for the upper grade kids that parents had paid for and installed only 8 or 9 years ago. A couple weeks info the fall year we got a much smaller play plastic structure that’s not nearly as fun for hide and seek or climbing. We are still waiting for the replacement of all the rest that was taken away in the name of safety and school regulations. The only libelous thing here is all the fun that’s being taken from our kids in the name of safety. How do you sue over that?!

  8. Splinters????

    PINCHING???????

    OH NO!!!!!!!!

    Back in my day, at primary school, the teachers could remove splinters. They could also put on a band-aid if the child was old enough to tell them whether or not they’re allergic. If not, they could ring a parent – and then put on the band-aid.

    It must be really upsetting to be a child and live in an environment where if something happens to you, no matter how small or how easily remedied, it won’t get fixed, but rather, every adult freaks out, parents are called in form work, etc. Add to that the fact that they May Not Be Touched By Anyone, and it’s a recipe for some sort of complex.

  9. From the time I was 5 I was allowed to play outside alone. We didn’t live in the city but I had full run of the fields and adjacent wood lot. I climbed trees, built forts out of logs and rocks, dug in the mud, collected critters and basically had a good time. By the time I was 8 I had my own pen knife and learned a valuable lesson when digging in a rotten fallen tree and disturbed a hornets nest. The hornets chased me most of the way home where my mother administered to the stings. At 10 I rode my bicycle 6 miles to swim in the canal with my friends. I can’t imagine what a poor excuse I might be now without all those experiences and the trust my parents had in my ability to take care of myself.

    Today some bureaucrat would probably insist that the field be carpeted and the wood lot clear cut. Protecting your children to the extent we see today is not preparing them to fend for themselves.

    I weep for those coddled children.

  10. I was just talking to my husband about my mother and my brother. At about age 10, my brother decided to make some money by setting traps and catching and skinning muskrats. He walked several miles each morning to check his traps, in winter, in the snow.

    One day he caught a squirrel. He was really sad because it was cute, and he didn’t want to skin it. My mom told him he HAD to – he had decided he wanted to do these traps, and he had to process what ever he caught and not waste that animal’s life. He made me hold the flashlight. I was about 5 or 6.

    My mom was so great about teaching responsibility.

  11. I teach preschool and the splinter issue drives me batty!!!

  12. Keep in mind that, as Phillip Howard contends and I agree as a lawyer, it is not an increase of ACTUAL lawsuits that is driving this; it’s an irrationally increased fear of lawsuits. There has been no actual increase in frivolous playground lawsuits over the decades. Corporations just have an irrational fear of frivolous playground lawsuits. It is kinda like the unfounded belief that millions of children are being snatched off the street. I’m not saying that there aren’t some frivolous playground lawsuits. Always have been; always will be. But the increased level of fear of them doesn’t correlate to the actual risk of such things.

  13. I have such fond memories of the tops of monkey bars and jungle gyms of metal and swings and merry go rounds and see saws. Doesn’t this look like fun?

  14. We still have all the various kinds of monkey bars at our school – but don’t tell anybody!!
    Every year when my day care inspector comes, she tells me I have to sand and prime around my front door. I rent the house, the siding is really rough wood, so sanding is pointless anyway. I gave it a lick and a promise the first time, and she doesn’t come back to check anymore. Just stupid rules, supposedly designed to protect the children. I wouldn’t have peeling paint IN the house, where they play, but they only go in and out the door with me or their parents – so it isn’t like they are going to be unsupervised around it, anyway.

  15. That inspector would have hated the backyard of the place we used to rent. The landlord used landscaping bark or something along those lines through significant parts of the backyard, rather than put in an entire lawn. Those things put lots of tiny splinters into any bare feet that dared go across, to where we bought stepping stones to get the kids across to the lawn without having to wear shoes all the time in the yard. Yes, sometimes they’d still go across the chips and then complain about splinters, but they learned pretty quickly that we meant it when we said shoes or use the stepping stones.

    That log would have a hard time beating those for splinters.

  16. Our neighborhood playgrounds actually replaced the monkeybars with something cooler. There are ladders that twist at the top so you are going up, then horizontally; a bridge made of plastic boards that has some higher and some lower so you have to clamber along; rocket sliders–hang on, push off, and fly to the other end of the bar; and my personal favorite, a setup that looks like a bunch of tilted steering wheels on the underside of a bar–grab them and they swivel, so you really have to monkey along to get from one end to the other.

    Monkeybars as such I don’t miss. They always got burning hot in summertime so nobody could play on them.

  17. @Donna There has been no actual increase in frivolous playground lawsuits over the decades.

    That is interesting, I was under impression that the number of lawsuits went up and that the society became generally more willing to sue each other.

    Both articles posted earlier and comments in discussions below them often blamed sue-happy parents. It shows that I’m not the only one. Not only the companies think that frivolous lawsuits are more common, general society thinks the same. It opened a lot of questions for me, if you do not mind.

    While number of frivolous lawsuits remained the same, did also non-frivolous lawsuit number remained the same? E.g. is it possible that they are also afraid of non-frivolous lawsuits?

    Is it possible that the price of lawsuit went up or maybe other consequences for involved managers are bigger? E.g. people 20 years ago would conclude that the managers trouble was bad luck and now they would conclude that the manager should be fired.

    Maybe the reporting about them went up?

  18. When I was 6 I was playing on the school playground on a weekend (something I was shocked to learn is not possible where I live now). The playground was wooden and quite sturdy. Unfortunately I made the bone headed move of sliding my hand down the wooden side of the slide when I went down the slide despite the fact that I had been using that slide for as long as I could remember. I wound up with a splinter through my ring finger with over an inch sticking out either end. I walked back to my babysitter’s house where it was removed, cleaned and bandaged. My mother was informed when she asked about the bandage. Neither the babysitter (an adult) nor my mother ever thought about saying a word to the school. Both did ask me if I learned not to do that again. Same thing when I fell off the top of the monkey bars or skinned my face riding my bike in the dry creek, or severely bruised my butt flipping off a trampoline or . . .

  19. Here’s a positive from my kids’ daycare. Parents got a note on Friday: “some parents have been asking why their kids have not been going outside to play. The reason is that some children are not dressed appropriately for the weather. Please dress your children appropriately for the weather so that we can take them outside. Kids need fresh air.”

    I know it’s against rules for them to take the kids outside in sub-___ weather unless they have on hats, gloves, boots, and some leg covering. (Because I’ve asked about that before myself.) But this is the first time I heard that another parent was pushing for outdoor play and the school was responding positively to it. So while they went out maybe twice last winter, maybe this winter it will be a lot more.

  20. I’ve discussed these “safe” playgrounds with my aunt (born somewhere in the late 40’s). She snorted and said, “It was only the really DUMB kids who died!”
    I think she was exaggerating. 😉

  21. Have you seen this website? http://reassurancecarecalls.com/children-home-alone-2/marilyn-shares-her-story. It is for a service that will your kids if they are home alone and checkin with them. It is touted as a perfect alternative if your kids want some “independence” but you still want them monitored.

  22. On lactation consultants….I am a pediatric feeding therapist. I work with lots of medically fragile babies, many that have been tube fed, on oral feeding. I work with kids with extreme prematurity, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, seizure disorder, and well as kids with less severe feeding issues caused by reflux, sensory issues, down syndrome, etc. When my own very healthy daughter was born I could not get her to latch. I was in milk overproduction, so lack of milk was not an issue. I knew more than enough about infant suck to know something was wrong, but between my own hormones and emotions I didn’t have a clue what to do. The LC I saw at the hospital was terrible, but I was able to make an appointment with a wonderful lactation consultant and ultimately got things figured out (nursed her for 26 months and my next child, without help of an LC, for over 2 years as well). I also had a mom who had bottle fed me and my brother, and no friends who had successfully nursed a baby. After having nursed my kiddos, I always will help a new mom friend in need (if they ask) and then an LC might not be needed. Like every profession, there are some good ones and some not….some have their own agenda, and some will listen and hear what you want and need and really want to help without overstepping…I do think “specialists” can sap confidence from new moms (I feel this way about some baby nurses too), but others can be very empowering.

    Anyway, my (10 year old) daughter is doing a project this weekend that will require her to score cardboard. Although she went to the store herself to buy some of the wires and things she would need, she can’t buy a box cutter. I have one, but figured she should start building her own tool box. I was going to get her a jackknife last summer, but was told she couldn’t bring it to camp (or if she did the counselor would have to hold on to it because, you know, “we can’t let the kids keep them in the bunk themselves.”). I HAD to bring a jackknife to camp, it was required and I was the SAME age.

  23. The last preschool I worked at in the US had the dreaded playground closure, by an overzealous inspector. But of course there was not the money in the budget to even have the beautiful all wooden structure removed. So instead the school wrapped yards and yards of plastic ‘caution’ tape around every surface, slide, and swing, and it was are job to make sure no one went near the danger zone. I’ve since escaped, and now teach on a tiny island in the Caribbean. If an American inspector ever saw the state of our playground, oh my!

  24. There are still playgrounds out there with those old jungle gyms, slides, merry-go-rounds and anything else.

    We found a lot of them in Pennsylvania. Our little town outside of Pittsburgh had 1 small playground that had 2 swings (with wooden seats) and an igloo style climbing structure. It wasn’t a real big one but my kids thought it was cool.

    Down the street was the town’s main park and it had an old metal slide (a small one, about 4 1/2 feet high) that was so rickety I cringed every time one of my kids (then 3, 4 and 5) went down it. The ladder wasn’t fully attached any more, the bottom of the slide was crooked, one half caving in to the ground and all the paint was peeling off. My 3yo almost fell off of it once but she held on and screamed for help and I was able to run across the park to get her. She went right back up the ladder but was much more careful after that.

    They also had one of those taller jungle gyms that I remember from when I was a kid. And a set of swings. The regular swings had the rubber seats but the “baby” swings were missing the front par and only had a chain to keep the kid from falling out. Which my 3yo did, lol (she’s very accident prone…she’s survived, though and is now 9).

    We also used to go to a park that had really big metal slides (like 7 feet tall) along with swings with the wooden seats on really long chains so you could get really high. It was a picnicking area and every place with picnic tables had a slide, swings and a see-saw. My kids loved it.

    Then while driving through Nebraska we found this little playground in some tiny town (needed to stop and use the bathroom and stretch). It had a metal slide, metal monkey bars and a really old wooden merry-go-round (I had never seen one like it). My kids had so much freaking fun at that park. It also had a small modern, plastic structure that my kids completely ignored for the old stuff. They even played on the metal bars meant for doing pull-ups. Or flips as they used them for.

    We’re in Washington State now and I’ve seen a few playgrounds around here with the old slides, merry-go-rounds (we have one in our town that the kids beg to go to all the time) and see-saws.

    I’ve also seen some modern playstructures that are really cool. The one at the kids’ school is pretty nice. They have one structure that is just all monkey bars of some kind. My kids have awesome upper body strength now and can navigate the entire thing without touching the ground.

    There really needs to be some kind of balance in playgrounds but with the safety conscious dictating everything… don’t see that happening and we’ll probably lose our cool play stuff soon.

  25. “It’s very hard to explain this to my son, who at 9 notices that the monkeybars are disappearing. The explanation that people are worried someone might get hurt just doesn’t gibe when it’s clear that no one cares who gets hurt by the economic expansion at any cost juggernaut.”

    Yeah, Sam. Exactly. If it’s well-being we’re after, I think we’re barking up the wrong hazard, hey?

  26. I work in licensed child care in CA. We are not ALLOWED to remove splinters anymore. Why? It is “surgical.” WTF? So the reason the school called the child’s parents to remove the splinter is that they are not permitted to remove the splinter. I’m sure they are all JUST as annoyed by it as I am, but we have to follow the regulations so we don’t get into trouble from supervisors…. stupid really.

  27. A playground survivor. Yep, I got hurt on the playground growing up. You know what? I learned not to do those things that got me hurt, like swinging on a metal bar so hard I fell straight onto my back, or climbing up the metal slide (two inch cut on my tongue from that one!).

    I know of a playground in the area that, despite having nothing wrong, has to be either torn down or replaced because (gasp!) the only thing underneath it is the ground, and that’s apparently just too hard of a surface for kids to fall on.

  28. “That is interesting, I was under impression that the number of lawsuits went up and that the society became generally more willing to sue each other.”

    Most people in the US are also convinced that kidnapping of children is a rampant, daily occurrence likely to happen the second your back is turned. That belief doesn’t actually make kidnapping rampant.

    Just like the media falsely makes kidnapping rampant, it also makes frivolous lawsuits seem rampant. The most common way to do this is to take a situation, leave out 99% of the facts and spin it as a frivolous lawsuit. The prime example of this was the McDonald’s coffee case. You never hear about the fact that the woman had 3rd degree burns on her groin requiring skin grafts. You never hear that McDs had increased the temperature of its coffee well over safe levels in order to use cheap coffee (it tastes better hotter) and allow it to sit out longer. You never hear that McDs was warned, fined (I believe) and had paid claims for other serious burns over this in the past but had continued to overheat its coffee to dangerous levels because it was cheaper to pay out claims than to improve their coffee. You don’t hear that the massive verdict was 99% punitive damages to make a point with a major corporation (that wouldn’t respond to a 200k claim anymore than it had in the past) that they needed to stop doing this. You never hear that it had the desire effect – McDs stopped using cheap coffee, brought its coffee down to normal levels and now, according to many I know, has some of the best coffee out there.

    Another way is to write reports about lawsuits involving someone suing someone else for something stupid when it is actually insurance companies battling it out over who is responsible. Lawsuits by insurance companies must be filed in the names of the insured and claimant. So if your medical insurance wants to sue my homeowners insurance for injuries you sustained on my property, the lawsuit would read Andy v. Donna, and we can do nothing to stop this lawsuit. If we try, our insurance company will retroactively cancel the insurance and then sue us for the amount paid.

    I do think more people WANT to sue today than at times past because of this belief that there is lots of money in it, but are shot down. Most lawyers take these type of personal injury cases on a contingency basis – that means that they don’t get paid if the client doesn’t win. There are unscrupulous people everywhere, but I don’t know many legitimate attorneys who are actually willing to take on a bunch of meritless lawsuits that they are sure to lose since that would require hours of their time and large outlay of their own money, none of which they would recoop when the client looses.

    “While number of frivolous lawsuits remained the same, did also non-frivolous lawsuit number remained the same? E.g. is it possible that they are also afraid of non-frivolous lawsuits?”

    Well, isn’t it a legitimate concern if the number of non-frivolous, meaning lawsuits with merit, are going up? If people are getting injured substantially more often in ways that form the basis of legitimate lawsuits, I think we need to be concerned. In other words, the only reason a company should be afraid of NON-FRIVOLOUS lawsuits is if they are acting in a way to bring about such lawsuits. A company that’s acting in an appropriate manner should have little fear of NON-FRIVOLOUS lawsuits as they will be minimal.

    “Is it possible that the price of lawsuit went up or maybe other consequences for involved managers are bigger?”

    That is possible. I think what really has changed is the number of people employed by companies to look at ANY potential lawsuits before they happen (due to this increased belief that lawsuits are rampant). The people then do what they are hired to do – they point out any conceivable risk of lawsuit, even if the chance that the correct series of events occurring to make the lawsuit a reality is about .00001%. The company then overreacts and acts to ensure that that .00001% risk never occurs.

  29. elf – It isn’t always the school staff’s fault. In Texas the state strongly warned doctors to NOT give standing orders to school nurses. So by law our nurses hands are tied. There are things they are allowed to do – and beyond that they could lose their licence and face prosecution if they go beyond that. The stupidity they force on school staff and students makes me want to dump the TEA, SBOE, Texas Legislature, and Perry down Deepwater Horizons never to seen or heard from again.

  30. When I was in grade 4, I made up a move I called the “fish flop” that involved flipping over the top of the monkey bars lying on them perpendicular to the way they run. I was showing off for a friend and decided to try it with a lot of speed, and I lost my grip, falling to the wood chips below with enough force to “buckle” (not fracture) both of my wrists.

    My mom was called, very angry to be taken away from work, and I came back to school with two cast-like splints on either forearm.

    The monkey bars stayed on the school grounds, at least for several years after. My mom was a lawyer, but her only comment was, “That’s not the intended use of the monkey bars. Serves you right” sort of thing.

    We also had a merry-go-round spinning thing, and see-saws that you could adjust so that the fulcrum had three positions (to better accommodate disparities in weight). I do remember that the fulcrum adjustment was a real finger-pincher / crusher, but it was assumed that learning to deal with these sorts of hazards were an important part of our development as humans. Either that, or the adults just didn’t realize what was going on. Probably the latter.

    I doubt that playground was ever inspected by anyone but the maintenance crew. It got painted once in a while, dark green.

    What I remember being a real hazard were those rusty, rickety, light-weight-tethered-to-nothing swing sets we all had in our back yards growing up. Wow, I remember those things tipping over more than once!

  31. @Donna thank you for the answer. I have only three notes:

    “Well, isn’t it a legitimate concern if the number of non-frivolous, meaning lawsuits with merit, are going up? If people are getting injured substantially more often in ways that form the basis of legitimate lawsuits, I think we need to be concerned.”

    A more legitimate lawsuit does not necessary means more injuries. It may simply mean more people that care to fill a lawsuit in case of injury. That would mean that a risk of lawsuit is higher even if you will act exactly the same way as before. So you are willing to risk much less than before.

    In the end, the person/company may be afraid of any lawsuit frivolous or not, but no manager would say “I’m afraid of legitimate lawsuit”. Makes you look like you do not have things straight.

    As the line between a frivolous and non frivolous lawsuit can be thin, (see the next point), they may add to the perception. That is why I asked about legitimate lawsuits.

    “You never hear about the fact that the woman had 3rd degree burns on her groin requiring skin grafts. ”

    Actually, I heard that. I also read the site set up by her lawyer. And I’m one of those people who do not buy it. It may be just a ‘cultural difference’, but where I live the cafe is done from boiling water and immediately served. Served cafe is as hot as possible and that how it is normal here. Burns are what happen when it is spoiled on you. Basically, by these standards, McDonald was forced to serve ‘dumbed down cafe’.

    So people like me can add this lawsuit to frivolous category, even if lawyers would not.

    “You don’t hear that the massive verdict was 99% punitive damages to make a point …”

    Is it relevant if I have to pay the money anyway? The risk that I will be forced to pay punitive damages must be treated the same way as the risk of paying the standard part. It is less probable, but much more money are going to be missing from my account. They take stakes up.

  32. “You never hear about the fact that the woman had 3rd degree burns on her groin requiring skin grafts. You never hear that McDs had increased the temperature of its coffee well over safe levels in order to use cheap coffee (it tastes better hotter) and allow it to sit out longer. You never hear that McDs was warned, fined (I believe) and had paid claims for other serious burns over this in the past but had continued to overheat its coffee to dangerous levels because it was cheaper to pay out claims than to improve their coffee. You don’t hear that the massive verdict was 99% punitive damages to make a point with a major corporation (that wouldn’t respond to a 200k claim anymore than it had in the past) that they needed to stop doing this. You never hear that it had the desire effect – McDs stopped using cheap coffee, brought its coffee down to normal levels and now, according to many I know, has some of the best coffee out there.”

    That may all be true…but it’s still hot, it can still burn and it’s still the fault of the adult who is careless..NOT the restaurant that makes the coffee.

  33. Playground survivor here. Anyone remember those large wooden wheels that you were to balance and run on without smashing your face? I got so many splinters on that one, but a girl named Jackie always had a safety pin on her clothes (she was very skinny) was known as the splinter girl at our school playground and got them out quite well.

    I think by removing the challenging structures from playgrounds we are dumbing down our children’s childhood. There should be something challenging for everyone. We have many great playgrounds where we live still and the one that is the most popular (shocker) is made of wood, has monkey bars, 3 story slides, and zip lines (and no spongy surfaces!) There’s even a parents sitting area where you can read and have coffee while the kids play without hovering parents.

  34. the school i work at has been there for about 20 years we have a merry go round and a jungle gym that the kids like to hang up side down from… they have a tall slide too… and a real sand box (not a sand table) for the kids to sit in and dig… and a fun tire swing… though I’m always in trouble b/c i pretend that i don’t see the kids running up the slide or climbing on the top of the play house… or jumping off the playground equipment in general… this is the play ground for the 4 year olds… but the babies have a pretty neat playground too… but this is a privately owned school the corporate owned ones i have worked at in the past are pretty boring….

  35. In Florida we are allowed to remove splinters one day were had to remove a huge one out of a girls foot because a piece of mulch went through her crocs then we just wrote up a report and then told her parents when they picked her up… Really unless the kid needs stitches or breaks something or bangs their head hard (had a little kid hit me then run away and slip on a book and got a black eye from hitting the floor karma at its best) we don’t bother the parents.

  36. As a teacher, I have regular first aid training in which we are told explicitly that we are not allowed to remove splinters from children. Tweezers have been removed from first aid kits in schools to prevent a teacher from doing so.

    When I was a kid, a group of parents got together, designed, and built the playground structures at my elementary school. It was an amazing project, it built community, and it was the best playground ever. I do remember, as the structures aged, one boy jumping from the top of the “tower” and getting a large nail through his foot. That led to students not jumping as often from the top of the tower and to its eventual dismantlement, but the other structures remianed for a long time. I was sad to see them replaced by prefab, safe playground equipment.

  37. I had really noticed the playground dumbing down in general, but then I found a brand new awesome playground (which is totally “dangerous”) at a nearby elementary/middle school! I was thrilled, and quite surprised. They have a rope climbing structure, like webbing, that’s at least 12 feet tall, big tall slides, balance obstical course, the works really. It’s all plastic of course, but this could keep even a high schooler occupied. My 3 year old loves it!

  38. “That may all be true…but it’s still hot, it can still burn and it’s still the fault of the adult who is careless..NOT the restaurant that makes the coffee.”

    The adult wasn’t careless. The coffee spilt when the adult took the lid off the over-full cup to put in cream. Common occurrence that likely happens thousand times a day at McDs alone.

    Seriously, you do understand what a 3rd degree burn is, don’t you? It means that you have been burnt so severely that there is no skin and you require skin grafts or you will die from infection. Yes, coffee is hot. Yes, coffee burns if spilled on you. I would fully expect a mild burn and some pain if I spilled coffee on myself. A disfiguring injury causing intense pain, weeks in the hospital, skin grafts and hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills is not the typical risk from a cup of coffee. If it were, I would venture to guess that coffee would be an unheard of substance. If that is a description of what I can expect from coffee at your house, please never invite me over for a cup.

  39. “We are drunk on safety and hallucinating pink liability issues. ”

    no. US society is drunk on lawsuits and has been for about 2 generations.
    This brings as a direct result a society that’s drunk on risk aversion, and thus a society that is paranoid in the extreme about detecting and preventing anything that “could go wrong”, leading to a stagnant society where nothing is allowed to ever happen.

    No more space exploration, no more innovation, no more jungle gyms.

  40. “A more legitimate lawsuit does not necessary means more injuries. It may simply mean more people that care to fill a lawsuit in case of injury. That would mean that a risk of lawsuit is higher even if you will act exactly the same way as before. So you are willing to risk much less than before.”

    I’m not sure that I get your point. A legitimate lawsuit means that someone was injured through the fault of the company. Are you saying that you are okay with companies acting in such a way as to cause injury? Are you saying that you would want the company acting exactly as they had been if those actions are causing injury?

    For example, clearly a lawsuit over a child falling off the monkey bars and breaking her leg is frivolous. However, if someone sues because the entire structure fell over with a child on it causing serious injury because it had been improperly installed, a little rethinking of standard operating procedure is in order. The problem is when the school then decides that there should be no monkey bars at all in case someone messes up installing another one rather than simply making sure that all the monkey bars are installed correctly before use. I do think that there is too much of that thought process – throwing the baby out with the bath water – going on today. That is not the fault of lawsuits but a symptom of the general attitude in America today that is so eloquently described on this blog by Lenore.

    Punitive damages are paid in cases where a company was acting in true disregard of human safety, knew that serious injury or death was likely and continued to operate in that fashion without telling anyone the risks. If a company has a fear that they are going to get slammed with punitive damages if they continue with business as usual, we REALLY don’t want them continuing with business as usual.

    As for McDs, I’ve actually read some of the transcripts of the trial, seen pictures of the woman’s injuries and read statements from the jurors in the case (ah, law school). The suit was very not frivolous. That is why we let the people who actually hear the evidence decide not people outside the courtroom. Since juries are not made up of Kardashians but of people who live paycheck to paycheck just like you and me, you can usually trust that they are not giving strangers windfalls while they return back to work on the assembly line for nothing. That is why few frivolous lawsuits win and large verdicts are a good indication that the case at least had some merit.

  41. @Donna, @Andy,

    I’ve read at least one article that suggests that the perceived increase in frivolous lawsuits was actually engineered by insurance companies in order to justify higher rates. The claim is also that this trend is being manipulated by people for political motivations. I’m not sure how “conspiracy theory”-esque this is, but you can read for yourselves here: http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2004/0410.mencimer.html

    This seems to be part of a bigger political kafuffle in the States called Tort Reform: you can see part of the arguments here: http://www.tortdeform.com/archives/2006/09/the_myth_of_the_frivolous_laws.html

    It’s kind of an interesting and (for Americans, anyway) important question: who’s responsible for the impression that litigation is so prevalent? We have a kind of blowback-effect up here in Canada, as well, where fear of litigation is often cited as a reason to curtail what used to be normal activities. A lot of our cultural norms are derived from commonplaces on American TV and other media, after all. But I wonder how much of that is actually going on, versus what we FEAR is going on.

  42. Donna, just wanted to say you have a supporter in the McD’s lawsuit argument! I didn’t go to law school, but I am old enough to remember going there with my parents after cutting down a Christmas tree, ordering a hot chocolate with ice in it, and after letting it cool for 20 minutes, it would finally be nearly drinkable. They were always much, much hotter than a normal hot drink you’d get at home or even in a non-fast food restaurant. I’m not at all surprised that someone could get burned that badly by it, I’m glad they had to pay out, and I have definitely noticed the difference. You order a hot drink there these days, and you can drink it right away.

    I don’t know if this is urban legend or not, but I’d always heard that the award was not set as a specific dollar amount, but rather as the price of one day’s worth of coffee sales at all of the McDonald’s restaurants. So I don’t feel too much sympathy for them, especially since this wasn’t the first lawsuit they’d faced over serious burns by hot beverages.

  43. “I’m not sure that I get your point. A legitimate lawsuit means that someone was injured through the fault of the company. Are you saying that you are okay with companies acting in such a way as to cause injury? Are you saying that you would want the company acting exactly as they had been if those actions are causing injury?”

    What you say is that legitimate lawsuits are good for society, because that serve are a controlling mechanism. I am not trying to argue these points. It was not criticism, rather an attempt to find all possible various contributors.

    I was looking for causes, not for ‘whose fault it is’. Again, these two things are different.

    It is possible for something to be good and contribute to general fear of lawsuit at the same time. The legitimate lawsuits have been first thing that came to my mind. If some failures and mistakes have been tolerated or ignored before and suddenly they are not, general fear of lawsuits will go up.

    People will be more cautious, that was intended effect anyway. That may include removal of instruments that may cause problems. After all, human mistakes happen. If it is not there, it is not possible to make mistake while installing it.

    As I can not reliably predict what will merit the lawsuit and the price is very high (even if I win, I still have to pay lawyers), I may err on the side of caution. Or, if I have a money and a lawyer, I may rely on him to decide what is safe and what is not. But this does not have anything with the number of legitimate lawsuits, rather than with predictability.

  44. @Donna I spit this to two answers, because I do not want mix isolated case with general discussion. I forgot to put your name on the first, it is just before this one.

    McDonald: Then I should pay punitive damages and all the restaurants around here should pay them too.

    Of course I feel bad when I see pictures of such injuries, but that changes nothing about cafe making procedure.

    The extend of injuries depends on more that just a temperature. I spoiled a boilling water to my leg once. It was directly out of kettle, so it is impossible to be hotter than that. The injuries has been smaller, because I could move freely so all those split second reflexes worked to my advantage.

  45. Andy, Why should you pay punitive damages? Does your coffee frequently cause 3rd degree burns? Have you been repeatedly warned, fined and sued due to injuries caused by your coffee? Have you decided that you will continue to provide coffee to others at dangerously high temperatures because it is actually cheaper to continue to pay money to people who suffer serious burns than to buy better coffee?

    And it is very much possible to super heat liquids beyond the temperature required to reach a boil, especially when the liquid sits at that temperature for long periods of time. I believe that was the allegations in the McDs case.

    While I give no validity to your opinion that McDs couldn’t possibly heat coffee hotter than that served in your kitchen since you didn’t touch the cup of coffee in question, you can’t compare what you would do in your own home to a situation in a restaurant. It is true that at home your injuries are minimized by being able to quickly strip off your clothes and get to cold water to stop the burn. That is not socially acceptable or even possible in a restaurant, therefore, the standards need to be different. Companies also must take into consideration their clientele when making business decisions. McD customers, at least in the US, are predominantly car occupants through the drive-thru window. McDs may need to do things differently than a sit down restaurant – and definitely different than a home – to do them safely. You can’t sell things to be consumed in vehicles and then say “well you should have drank the coffee at home where you could jump out of the way of a spill more easily” when something goes wrong. The coffee actually has to be safe to be consumed in the manner that you sell it to be consumed. Further, McDs was clearly doing something wrong. There are a ton of places to grab a cup of coffee to consume in your car in America – several on every block on many areas. All of them have the same risk of coffee being spilled in a confined area. None of them had repeated injury claims based on serious burns from their coffee.

    Whether it’s this case or Casey Anthony or OJ Simpson, I’m astounded by people who believe that they know better than the people who gave up days, weeks and even months of their own lives to sit in a room and listen to evidence for 8-10 hours a day based on … well, nothing usually. Not people who simply say “I would have decided differently” (although I usually roll my eyes when the person saying that wasn’t in the courtroom but whatever). But people who insist that the jury was completely baseless in their decision and were insane to have come to the conclusion that they did – what you are essentially saying by insisting that the jury gave millions of dollars in a lawsuit so without merit from its inception to be frivolous.

    I’ve presented numerous cases to juries, sat through many others. I don’t always agree with their decisions, but I have found them to always take their job very seriously. They don’t just put two verdicts in a hat and pick one out. They make a very considered decision. I sometimes fault their logic, but their decisions are rarely completely baseless and frivolous. I’ve never sat all the way through a trial and believed that there was absolutely no basis whatsoever for the verdict.

  46. Andy, as for the other, I don’t see any actual increase in personal injury claims so I don’t believe that even legitimate lawsuits have increased. People have always sought money when injured through the fault of another. I worked at a personal injury law firm in the 90s and the law firm had existed since the 40s or 50s. It exists today with about the same number of cases.

    I do think that companies are more fearful about lawsuits today. I just don’t believe that the fear is rational any more than the uptick in fear over kidnapping is rational.

    The world has simply become increasingly risk adverse. Companies, government entities and individuals are all substantially more risk adverse. It is a pervasive world view shift that likely has no concrete basis.

    I think the best explanation is that the western world is simply too safe so people have become unwilling to accept any risk, danger, illness, accident. This individual view drives entities. As people become more risk adverse, companies – made up of people – also become more risk adverse. The monkey bars are removed because the general highly risk adverse public demands they be removed lest kids get hurt. The entity agrees because its employees are representative of the general highly risk adverse population.

  47. Had to post this link to a discussion on a parenting forum about playgrounds. Not sure if it will work, but interesting if it does. The whole thing is about supervising while children play and the majority of the responses involve calling for constant supervision…only saw a couple that were free range…
    http://www.cafemom.com/group/115189/forums/read/15808419/You_suck_if_you_do_this?next=141#replies

    Also thinking of starting a free range group on this same forum. I searched and didn’t see one…

  48. I hesitate to throw myself into a political debate that doesn’t concern me, but it strikes me that if the States had a healthcare system similar to ours up here, lawsuits wouldn’t be seen as one of the only ways to afford things like skin grafts. Honestly, it baffles me how you guys put up with that down there.

  49. Look at it from the preschools point of view. However low the risk of litigation, it would be lower if they removed the playground. From their point of view, the incentive is to eliminate the playground altogether. After all, they don’t get to play on it.

  50. @Donna I don’t see any actual increase in personal injury claims so I don’t believe that even legitimate lawsuits have increased.

    Thank you. I was really curious about it.

    “While I give no validity to your opinion that McDs couldn’t possibly heat coffee hotter than that served in your kitchen.”

    According to wikipedia, McDonald coffe had 80–190 °F (82–88 °C). Boiling water has 212 °F (100 °C) . I do not have to touch it to compare.

    “And it is very much possible to super heat liquids beyond the temperature required to reach a boil, especially when the liquid sits at that temperature for long periods of time.”

    Boil is the maximum possible temperature for any liquid, including water. Boiling means that the temperature is so high, that the liquid is turning into gas. Water sitting long time at the temperature bigger than boiling temperature disappears completely. It turns into steam. Remaining water has still only 212 °F (100 °C) at any point. It does not get hotter.

    The only way to increase the temperature beyond 212 °F is to increase the pressure, for example in a pressure cooker. Pressure changes the boiling boiling point to a higher one. That is way the opening of the pressure cooker is dangerous.

    Frankly said, if the court would allow such claim, it would ignore laws of physics and thus would be flawed.

    “Does your coffee frequently cause 3rd degree burns?”

    No, but that is mostly result of luck and the fact that people know that it is dangerously hot. Plus, they do not drink it tied to a car seat, so they can react if they accidentally spoil it.

    “Have you been repeatedly warned, fined and sued due to injuries caused by your coffee?”

    By who? Such coffe is perfectly normal here and such lawsuit or fine would not be possible here.

    “because it is actually cheaper to continue to pay money to people who suffer serious burns than to buy better coffee?”

    I highly doubt that those two coffes had identical taste. Anyway, I think that business is free to serve lower quality service, provided that it does not lie about it and does not break any regulation or law. Quality versus price is a kind of decision that every business must make regularly.

  51. Remaining water has still only 212 °F (100 °C) at any point. It does not get hotter.

    Except that it wasn’t water being kept hot, it was coffee.

    I know that adding salt to water changes the freezing and boiling temperature. It lowers the one and raises the other. What does adding coffee do to the boiling temperature of water?

  52. it’s still the fault of the adult who is careless..NOT the restaurant that makes the coffee.

    Yeah, but in the real world (and certainly in the world of civil suits, if what I was taught in high school is correct) it’s not an either/or thing. Two (or more) people can share the fault.

    So, say, the fault for your injury could be decided to be 20% yours (you really should not have been running on a wet floor) and 80% theirs (they should definitely have put up a sign warning people that the floor was wet, no matter how shiny it was). Or, if the nieces fight over a toy, I might say that they are equally responsible for cleaning up the mess they made while fighting – sure, Ana should not have held the dolls over her sister’s head and laughed at her, but Eva should not have thrown books at her sister. And even though she DID, Ana should not have started ripping those books up. (This is all made up except the names. The nieces have had fights, but not THIS bad! I’m just trying to give an example here.)

  53. @Uly What does adding coffee do to the boiling temperature of water?

    Interesting question 🙂 I found nothing on the internet and I do not have thermometer big enough :(.

    Coffee in question had 80–190 °F (82–88 °C). They did not tried to boil coffee, that would be disgusting.

  54. Sorry, just an addition. My point here is that it doesn’t matter how careless this woman was with her coffee.

    You’re saying “Oh, she should not have gotten any compensation because only an idiot would put a coffee cup between her legs while starting to drive, she should’ve known it would spill”.

    Well, maybe. But she would have been just as seriously injured if she’d carefully placed it in the cupholder, stopped suddenly to avoid driving over a squirrel, and had it fall out and open in her lap. (This is improbable, but definitely possible.) Or if she’d walked out of the store carrying it, slipped on a patch of ice (or been bumped into by a rampaging toddler in the summer) and sloshed it all over herself as she fell.

    If your coffee is frequently giving people third degree burns, it is too hot. I don’t care if those people are showering in the stuff, it shouldn’t require weeks of surgery to fix!

    McDonald’s, at the same time, switched from using their old “spoon” stirrers to new coffee stirrers because of fears that their spoons were being used by drug addicts. They didn’t like the idea of being linked to drugs, even though nobody was remotely considering blaming them for this.

    For that, they can spend money fixing things, but for actual injuries actually caused by them they couldn’t? Forget it! It would’ve been just as easy to keep the coffee slightly cooler. It WAS just as easy to do that, once they were told to stop making excuses about it.

    I don’t expect to be babied about it, but if a company is selling a product that can send me to the hospital for several weeks, I like to at least know that it’s moved beyond “hot” into “really, really, extremely molten”. Then I know to walk super-duper carefully instead of just reasonably carefully.

  55. They did not tried to boil coffee, that would be disgusting.

    It’s a traditional way of preparing coffee, actually. (I kinda think coffee is disgusting to begin with.)

  56. re: McDonalds’ coffee lawsuit: McD’s had an official policy of serving coffee at 180-190 degrees F; home coffee is typically 134-140. McD’s insisted that a higher temperature is necessary to release all the compounds for best flavor, and that most customers were commuters who wanted their coffee still hot when they arrived at their destination.

    She had ~$10k in medical bills, an expected ~$3k more, and ~$5k in lost work when she filed. (She’d also lost 20% of her body weight due to hospitalization etc.) She offered to settle for $20k; McD’s offered her $800. During the lawsuit prep, she offered several other settlement options; McD’s turned them all down.

    McD’s had faced over 700 similar complaints and settled with many of them, including one for $500,000–all of which they insisted was not enough to convince them to change their policies.

    Sometimes I think some of the child-protective hysteria arises from situations like this: we are surrounded by corporations and other institutions that refuse to take the most basic responsibility for their actions, and a lot of parents react by trying to remove their children from all dangerous situations. Or the politico-legal system overreacts and demands that, since one child suffered from this, it must be removed from access to all children–because it would be too much work to force organizations to clean up their messes.

    If the victim of the McD’s case had been a 13-year-old instead of a 79-year-old, coffee would probably be outlawed for minors and no longer served in any restaurant that allows children to eat.

  57. @Uly To be fair, she was not driving when it happened. She parked the car before trying to open it. Spoiling of liquid may happen to person of any intelligence. I’m not saying she an idiot because she spoiled a coffee.

    There was 700 reports of coffee burns ranging from mild to third degree for tens of billions of sold coffees. That gives probability one in twenty-four million people, even if all would be third-degree. That is hardly regularly.

    It is not only temperature, the injury depends also on how long you had the water on the skin. From the claim in the Liebeck case:
    * 180 °F (82oC) produces third-degree burns in 12 to 15 seconds,
    * 160 °F (71 °C) produces third-degree burns in 20 seconds.

    The lowered temperature gives you additional 5 seconds to save yourself from the third degree burn.

    “I don’t care if those people are showering in the stuff, it shouldn’t require weeks of surgery to fix!”

    That is very hard to keep standard. Even coffee with 122 ºF (50°C) degree may burn you that badly if you leave it on yourself for 257 seconds. The minimum temperature at which skin burns is 44 degrees Celsius, I have no idea how long do you have to bath in it.

    I like my coffee, tea, soup or whatever else hotter than that.

    The burning is a risk inherent in coffee drinking. It does not happen often, because most people manage to save themselves fast enough. You reflexively jump up and move closes away from skin. She was old, she was in a car and she had clothing that made it difficult. Unfortunate incident.

  58. Okay, here’s the point — boiling water is one way to make coffee. But it is not the normal way, nor is it the way you expect to get it served in a restaurant.

    Restaurants do not normally sell boiling coffee, or coffee that has been boiled, since that is not the way most people like it — most people accustomed to drinking coffee *do* think that is disgusting. Only the relatively few people inured to boiled coffee think otherwise, and that is not the market that restaurants are normally aiming for.

    So the statement that McDonald’s prepared and served coffee at a higher temperature than is normal for coffee — in fact, hotter than any home coffeemaker will make it — is completely reasonable, since you can in fact heat coffee up to 212, but that is not the normal practice. In fact, the usual explanation offered for this is that they were aiming for the takeout market that wants the coffee to still be hot when the customer arrives at his destination.

    “Yeah, but in the real world (and certainly in the world of civil suits, if what I was taught in high school is correct) it’s not an either/or thing. Two (or more) people can share the fault.”

    That’s also true in morality. If two people do something wrong, then fault is not a zero sum game. One person might get more blame for instigating the situation, but if the other person is a free moral agent considered of age to have some discretion, then they should be held accountable for their part as well.

  59. @pentamom who claimed that they boiled the coffee?

  60. Andy, just a note – spilling, not spoiling. Yes, I know it’s off-topic. Yes, I’m well aware nobody asked me to correct their spelling. But if I didn’t I’d actually be kept awake at night. (Yes, I know that’s a serious issue.)

  61. @Uly thanks 😉

  62. I don’t know that anyone claimed that they boiled the coffee. It just seemed that there was a debate over whether some coffee could be relatively “hotter” than other coffee, and the answer is, yes, it can be, because theoretically you CAN boil coffee, but normally they don’t — which means any coffee hotter than the “usual” temperature at which coffee is made (which is always less than the boiling point), is relatively “hotter” (because theoretically you COULD make it as hot as the boiling point.)

  63. “By who? Such coffe is perfectly normal here and such lawsuit or fine would not be possible here.”

    McDs had paid claims (I don’t know if they were lawsuits or not as the general practice is to try to settle with the company prior to filing a lawsuit) to previously injured people. All restaurants in the US are inspected regularly. The inspectors had repeatedly warned McDs that their coffee was heated to a level that exceeded industry standards and was considered unsafe.

    You keep pointing out how coffee is served in your country as if that should mean something to this situation. While interesting (although I have no idea what country we are talking about), your practices are not remotely pertinent. In AMERICA (where this incident occurred), people don’t consume coffee at boiling point. Americans don’t expect their coffee to be at a boiling point when purchased. They expect it to be usual American coffee temperature and act accordingly. Americans, this woman included, would probably handle the cup differently if they knew they were being handed coffee at a much higher temperature than usual. You can’t fault a woman for not acting as though she were handed coffee at boiling point when she didn’t expect coffee at boiling point. Things can be unsafe where used because of custom while not unsafe at all in other places due to different expectations.

    “Oh, she should not have gotten any compensation because only an idiot would put a coffee cup between her legs while starting to drive, she should’ve known it would spill”.

    Actually that is not what happened at all. She bought the coffee through the drive-thru window. She then pulled off to the side and stopped her vehicle. She opened the top to add cream into the coffee and it spilled while she was removing the lid. She did place the coffee between her legs to remove the lid. Not a great decision, but I don’t know why you assume that the jury didn’t consider that in its verdict.

    In most states, the law of comparative negligence applies in civil suits. If both people have some fault, the jury is to apportion recovery according to that fault. So if the jury believes that the woman was dumb for putting the coffee between her legs but still believes that McDs should sell coffee that doesn’t cause 3rd degree burns, they can give money to the woman. A verdict for this woman does not mean that the jury believed that she had no fault in the situation; it just means that it believed that McDs fault was greater by the amount granted (excluding the punitive damages which are based solely on McDs conduct).

    “The burning is a risk inherent in coffee drinking. It does not happen often, because most people manage to save themselves fast enough. You reflexively jump up and move closes away from skin. She was old, she was in a car and she had clothing that made it difficult. Unfortunate incident.”

    Except that this specific coffee was sold specifically to be handled IN a vehicle by people who knew that their consumers would be trapped in a car while handling the coffee and not able to reflexively jump up and move clothes away from the skin. They know this because they sold it to a person who was sitting in a vehicle at the time that she ordered the coffee, paid for the coffee and the coffee was delivered to her. You can’t sell coffee to people SITTING in a vehicle and then use as your defense the argument that had she not been in a vehicle she wouldn’t have been burnt so bad.

  64. @Donna the coffee is served the same way also in parts of USA. I have seen and drunk it. Plus, the discussion on which coffee serving temperature is the right is kinda hot in USA, especially ever since this case. With people arguing for all kinds of temperatures. It is not a clear cut thing where everyone agree.

    The difference between ‘unsafe’ McDonalds coffee and ‘safe’ coffee is 5 additional second available to save yourself from third-degree burn. The same burns are possible also with the new temperature.

    No one in this discussion faulted the woman. That quotation was said by Uly, who was on her side. (Even if it would be so, she would deserve some compensation.)

    If one in twenty-four million and you have to contribute to the problems is too dangerous, then high jungle gyms, swings and climbing trees are too dangerous too. If you fall down from the tree, the injuries can be bigger and the change is about the same or bigger. Plus, safety inspectors complain about those playground structures too.

    Unless you want to demand absolute safety only for adults, but not for children.

    I never read about inspectors in McDonald not fines. Only about previous settlements. Can you send the link? The jury reproached McDonald that it did not consulted ‘burn experts’ after reports of injuries.

  65. @Donna I would add that those additional 5 seconds are according to court finding in coffee case. According to other findings, that is scientifically inaccurate. Newer findings showed, that 149 °F (65 °C) liquid could cause deep tissue damage in only two seconds.

    McDonald argued that all foods hotter than 130 °F (54 °C) constituted a burn hazard, and that restaurants had more pressing dangers to warn about.

  66. We all know that snowball throwing isn’t allowed on the playground, right? Wasn’t when we were kids either. My guys just informed me yesterday that they get “special days” where they can have snowball fights during recess, because their principal told them “he was allowed that opportunity at recess when he was a boy.” Isn’t that sweet??? Also, they have attached metal signs on the fence with targets that the kids are allowed to throw snowballs at…because it’s hard to control the urge sometimes. Yay for our school!!!

  67. You should see the looks my friends and I get from parents for letting our kids play on the slide in the winter. The slide gets real fast when it is cold. Sometimes the kids slide an extra 3-4ft off the end of the slide. They love it, and see who can get the farthest.They usser the breakable kids out of the playgound but that is ok, just means more room for our kids.

  68. 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… close to the 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 high-school 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 (http : // www . mass . gov / Eeohhs2 / docs / dph / regs / 105cmr435 . pdf)

    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 three 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 just under 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

    Very recently I went by a local Christian school, and saw what was easily the best school playground I have ever seen. It had no swings; it was a “modern” piece of equipment in looks… but it was (no exaggeration) at least 15 feet tall; the (plastic/fiberglass… couldn’t tell which one) curvy slide did 3 full 360-degree rotations before the end. The main reason there were no swings had NOTHING to do with safety — the pastor of the church (also the owner of the school) believes very strongly against wimpiness and fear. Rather, it was space — the playground structure would not have been even half the size horizontally if they had put swingsets in as well; as it is, it takes up a large portion of the (fairly large) yard. The point I am trying to make is, that the presence or absence of an individual piece of equipment does not make the difference between a good playground and a bad one. Rather it is the motive behind said presence/absence. This especially applies to school playgrounds, where space may be of the essence. The whole idea of a school playground almost necessitates a modular structure due to sheer volume; whereas parks often have more freedom to add a variety of high-capacity and low-capacity equipment to their playgrounds. By increasing the vertical dimension, a space-conscious school owner can further increase the compactness (capacity per square unit) of their playspace while also increasing the “fun factor”. Oh, and the pastor’s attitude shows… there were kids on the playground at the time, and a few of them were seen crawling across the sideways metal pole which the triangular monkey bars were beneath — a pole that was about 8 feet off the ground. They appeared to be completely unaffected by the height of the structure. As always, I will mention that I am ENTIRELY FOR safe surfacing, especially the new rubberized kind, which is stable enough to actually run on while being soft enough to reduce serious injuries. However, I am AGAINST an attitude that the benefits of playgrounds (mainly the fun factor and the physical activity, but other issues such as the vestibular system come into play) should be skimped upon in the name of “safety” (put in quotes because the risk of deaths on playgrounds has ALWAYS been less than being struck by lightning or abducted and killed by a stranger, and definitely FAR less than the obesity that a sedentary lifestyle can cause). For parks especially, this means a variety of playground equipment, which is tall enough to support the needs of kids of all ages. Swingsets and slides — and even modular structures, which don’t get as much mention here, but they WERE around back then — were taller back before 1984… 12-foot tall swingsets and (straight metal, sometimes as much as 45-degree angle) slides were common in the 60s, whereas today 8 feet is the norm… plus the slides are curved or wavy nowadays instead of straight. The local Christian school is honestly what I had envisioned a modular structure of the 70s to look like if it were made using modern materials (including surfacing — that playground uses the rubberized surface). Also, back then kids could do things many of us would find unbelievable now. For instance, the mere mention of jumping down from anything much over 3 feet up is enough to almost give a heart attack to many who did just that (and then some) in their childhood. Children have a desire to be competitive — both with each other and with themselves. A recent study showed a gigantic correlation between a child being active and adults, ESPECIALLY the child’s parents, NOT being present; also if other active children WERE present, then activity greatly increased. Real-life application: A mother and her 8-year-old son are at the playground, while no one else is there. The best way to get the kid in better shape would be to replace the mother with another boy between ages 6 and 12.

    Well, MANY parents would almost have a heart attack… apparently not the parents of this kid! Also notice that the swingset is a (pre-1984-esque) 12-footer according to the video description… it looks more like 10 feet, but I’ll take their word for it because there’s nothing in the video that can definitively say either way.

    http : // www . youtube . com / watch?v=6O1yR7-YVwg#t=4m16s (remove spaces)

  69. My goodness, a splinter hazard. Sounds serious.

  70. […] Where Have All The Jungle Gyms Gone? Long Time Passing var addthis_product = 'wpp-262'; var addthis_config = {"data_track_clickback":false,"data_track_addressbar":false};if (typeof(addthis_share) == "undefined"){ addthis_share = [];}Hi Folks! Heres a great article from the L.A. Times about one of our recurring themes: The dumbing down of playgrounds to the point where they are, well, pointless. The writer, Gale Holland, reports: Last fall as state inspector strode into Great Beginnings preschool and declared the tree house and climbing structure too high. They … Read more: https://freerangekids.wordpress.com/ […]

  71. I work in special education. Do you know how many children are classified as being “disordered” because they are “sensory seekers?” i.e. they “seek input” and enjoy moving around??!! This is seen as a disability in todays educational system. Help!!

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