Late last summer I spent some time talking to Sumathi Reddy, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal. She was writing an article about playground safety – how standards have developed and what impact these changes have had on children. “Playing It Too Safe?” was published in November amid lots of chatter among play and child-development experts.
While my comments didn’t make it into the finished article, it did give me a chance to think about the effect cookie-cutter playgrounds have on my kids. The number one effect? After a certain age (around 7 for Elena, and I’m seeing signs of it in Eli at 5), they don’t really want to go the playground anymore. We have a few unique playgrounds nearby that still elicit excitement from them, but gone are the days when any old slide would do.
I’ve also observed that my kids will use these more monotonous playgrounds to exercise different ways to experience risk. Take a look at this playground:
It was built less than 2 years ago. It has several elements typical playgrounds lack: wobbly ropes, climbing boulders, musical features, and heights (the main playspace is 3 stories tall). Even the 10-year-old enjoys this playground. When we’re here, they play on the equipment as it’s meant to be played … following the playground “rules,” if you will.
This one is a hit, too. Again, notice multiple different climbing possibilities (including the spider web climber in the back), as well as the height.
Down the street from our house, we have a small, typical playground. A bank of swings, two small slides, a set of monkey bars. I dread this playground if other moms are present, because I know my kids are going to do things that will get me dirty looks from them. They climb and sit on top of the monkey bars. They run up the slide. They leave the playground to play in the ravine nearby.
Child-development experts point to these kinds of playgrounds and say my kids are doing it for good reason – they’re trying to find ways to challenge themselves in a play environment that is very unchallenging. And so I cheer them on while trying to avoid the stink-eye from the mom on the other bench. And I try to seek out places where they can have fun and be challenged, though they are few and far between.
What has your experience been? Do you (or your kids) find today’s playgrounds too boring? Are there any playgrounds you’ve visited that have newer or riskier features you’re kids love?