No risk is a slippery slope.
“Which piece of playground equipment was he on when he broke his arm?” The x-ray technician was quizzing me as she x-rayed my son after he broke his arm on the playground at school. Yes, he was running. Yes, he jumped. Nope, he was not on the monkey bars. Apparently the most popular answer to that question. His jump did land him under the monkey bars. Guess what, the school banned everyone from playing on the monkey bars, since his injury was near it. Not the cause, but just the proximity. Wrong place, wrong time, monkey bars. You’ve got to go….Go sit with those dangerous swings.
With each year, playgrounds are getting safer. First seesaws are removed, then swings, then monkey bars. One sanitized action after another is a slippery slope. It becomes easier and easier to rationalize the changes in playgrounds. Yes, at times safety standards need to be addressed (no, I don’t want a 2 year old chewing on toxic chemicals), but common sense needs to prevail (yes, the 7 year old tripped while running, but running should not be banned…outdoors…on the playground).
Is taking risk out of playgrounds really the best thing for children? Children instinctively go toward risk. They could be standing right next to the ladder that leads up the slide, but they choose to climb up the side of the structure. On the monkey bars, they will swing upside down instead of with their hands. Heck, they will almost always run instead of walk. Should we have a “sit down” playground. Wouldn’t that be safer?
There are so many benefits to outdoor play and that outdoor play should not be sanitized. (http://www.earlychildhoodaustralia.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/AJEC0802.pdf). Development requires strong gross muscles before it can have strong fine motor muscles. No child can sit in a chair for any duration without good balance. And what 16 year old alone in the car for the first time can assess the risk of a situation unless they first assessed the risk of jumping off the top of the slide.
When my kids were little they were forever on the look out for the mythical seesaw they had seen in books and heard me tell stories of the amazing feats you could do with one and a group of friends. Unfortunately, they have been removed from most playgrounds. Now we live in a state that a sighting of a swing set on a playground is worthy of marking it on a map and turning the car around to photograph it. Really?! A state that bases it entire economy on being outdoors from beaches to amusement parks rarely has swings?
The lifelong benefits the playground affords are endless:
Gross motor skills Self regulation
Fine motor skills Perseverance
Risk assessment Pre-writing
Motor planning Pre-math
Spatial Awareness Social Awareness
Muscle memory Building Neurological Pathways
So that slippery slope needs a sign of warning. We have lost seesaws, swings, monkey bars. What’s next? Pretty soon all playgrounds will be a flat, artificial flooring area, properly shaded where children must sit. Along with the seesaws and monkey bars, we will be saying goodbye to amazing athletes and strong students. And happy ones also!