Archives for February 2012

Where Risky Kids Wish They Went To School

Check out this kindergarten in Japan … built around a tree!

Photo credit: Tezuka Architects

Half of the building is enclosed in glass, while the other half is open to the elements.  You can see more images, and read more about the school over at treehugger.

Do the elevated open spaces freak you out (no pressure on the teachers or anything)? The most dangerous places are roped off, but I love the quote from the principal of the school:

“Children who do not learn how to avoid minor injuries can experience much more serious accidents as adults.”

I know this wouldn’t fly in the US, where the school would have its first lawsuit before snack time was over, but I wonder what the general sentiment is in Japan. Are parents there generally less risk-averse than we are? I haven’t traveled outside of the country since having kids, but it has me wondering: do parents from the US worry more about potential hazards in regards to their kids than parents from other cultures?

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Let Me Play

Mike sent me this as a text yesterday and I absolutely loved it:

It was making the rounds around Facebook, and upon further investigation I found it comes from Jeff over at Explorations Early Learning LLC.  I have a feeling Jeff either already is, or would be a fan of 50 Dangerous Things, seeing as how he has a slingshot (Dangerous Thing #27) for sale in his online store. I really want to meet this guy one day.

Back to the picture … if you take a look at his Facebook page, you can also find other versions that people have doctored using their age, such as “I am 32 …” and using a picture of themselves playing.  This is so very true.  Whether we’re 3 or 33 or 63, we all need play in our lives.

One of my favorite memories in college had nothing to do with wings or keg stands (although I do love me some wings and I know a thing or two about keg stands).  My girlfriend and I were on our way to hear a lecture by Jaime Escalante that was required for a class.  It was after dinner and already dark on our midwestern campus.  Days before the entire campus had been closed due to an unprecedented ice storm.  Most of the campus was still a solid sheet of ice.  We were cutting through campus, probably late, and tried to make our way up a small hill.  Chatting away, my girlfriend bit it and slid down the hill sprawled out on her belly.  I lost my balance laughing at her and slid down in a heap next to her.  Instead of brushing ourselves off and taking the sidewalk, we spent the next 30 minutes trying to scale the hill and falling down in laughter.  I might have peed myself (then again, maybe not. This was before I had kids).  I definitely ruined my coat, as the handful of jelly packets I stole from the dining hall exploded inside my coat.  We missed the lecture.  I guarantee you that had we gone to the lecture, I probably couldn’t tell you a thing about it today.  But every time I think about us goofing off on that icy hill I smile.

I get so sad when I see kids getting scolded for not meeting expectations that are entirely inappropriate for their age.  We can model to our 3-year-olds what it means to sit quietly for a few minutes so that they can eventually learn the skill, but we cannot expect them to sit still and be quiet for an hour-long church service.  I am setting both Eli and I up for failure if I take him to my favorite artsy boutique and expect him not to touch everything.

Life with young children is so much easier if we manage our expectations and incorporate free time into our days.  I’m pretty sure one of the circles of Hell, for both parents and children, is a day filled with errands followed by an evening of sports practices and enrichment classes.  I used to feel guilty when I’d look back on a day and realize we’d never left the house.  Could I be any more boring or shortchange my kids of any more valuable experiences?  Now I realize that a day with Legos strewn across the kitchen table and couch cushions on the floor is day very well spent, as is a day with sand and grit tracked into the house and a screen door that never seems to stay shut.

No  matter your age, no matter the season, please make time in your life to get out and play.

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Playgrounds Without Panic

Brooks School Park

Danger! This playground is next to water! EVERYBODY PANIC!!!!!

The kids and I spent a lot of time visiting playgrounds last summer.  We were helping KaBOOM! out in their Park-a-Day Challenge, and while we certainly didn’t make it to a park every day, we hit up quite a few.  By the end of the summer, myself and the kids had a pretty good idea of what we thought made a good playground.

There were some things we all agreed on (bathrooms, at least one shady spot, monkey bars), and other things that we differed in opinion ( I could live without splash parks, the kids love them).  That’s the thing about playgrounds – they’re not one size fits all.

I couldn’t help but find myself disappointed and a little bit peeved after I read one mom’s blog post detailing her recent visit to an upgraded playground.  I think the title will give you a small hint as to how she felt about this particular playground:  “An Itemized Tour of the Most Terrifying Playground in the World.  EVERYBODY PANIC!!!!!”  

I looked at the pictures and thought, “How freaking awesome!  We need one of these in Indy!”  Giant slides, spinners, hills, drain pipes . . . my kids would flip for these kinds of amenities.  The author, and the majority of her 80+ commenters, felt differently.  The major complaints included not being able to see your kids at all times, the possibility for injury from falls, and fears that the space encouraged kids to wander off or place them in danger of being kidnapped.

In fairness, this particular blogger definitely writes with humor and sarcasm.  Some points have been over-dramatized for entertainment.  However the commenters are dead serious.    They see it as a place purely of risk, with some calling for playground guidelines and standards.

Let me tell you about a playground that used to give me hives in Nashville.  It was an enormous, wooden play structure inside the Nashville Zoo.  When I say enormous, I mean it.  Think 60,000+ square feet.  Think 35 feet tall.  I used to meet up with some girlfriends at the Zoo a couple of times a month.  Our kids were toddlers and for the longest time we could keep them corralled in this awesome little outdoor padded room.  We could always see them, and they couldn’t get hurt.  Then one day one of the kids figured out how to escape from the padded room.  That was pretty much the end of the Zoo playground visits for us.  Elena was fearless, and she’d scale the first 2 stories of that play structure before I knew she was gone.  There were multiple places for her to exit the playground, there were umpteen million ways she could fall or get stuck.  I cursed that playground.

But here’s the thing:  I detested that playground because it wasn’t age-appropriate for my kid.  For the other, older kids who were bored to death with traditional playgrounds?   It was heaven.  Now that I have older kids who need more than a slide and a few stairs to keep them entertained and active, I think it’s heaven, too.

I get it.  Not every playground is a good fit for every kid.  Age, temperament, and sensory issues are all important factors in determining what activities are appropriate choices.  We need all kinds of playspaces.

How about we make encourage our park planners to think about all ages and abilities when designing different playgrounds?  How about we make sure each community has at least one playground that gives mothers with young kids a safe place to play?  How about we make sure each community has one kick-ass, challenging playground for older kids?  How about we loosen up just a bit and give those older kids a chance to climb high and disappear for just a bit.  But more importantly, how about we not panic?

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