Sunday, October 5, 2014

Stop Taking The Play Out of Playgrounds

Remember that feeling of weightlessness? Remember feeling the warm sun on your face while a sky of azure looked back down on you, tempting you to touch it? I remember feeling that if I kicked enough and extended my arm beyond my physical limitations that I would feel that blue sky sifting through my hands like early morning sand.

Playgrounds have drastically changed since I was a kid and I wish that they hadn't. The playground is no Thunderdome. Kids are still getting out relatively unscathed but in some places they believe exploration especially of the experimental kind is necessary. Playgrounds didn't have all the restrictions and warnings that they have now. You played at your own risk, which was part of the fun. Yet, some of us still hover like helicopters and prevent exploration and accidents from happening.

Yet here we are in a modern day and age where we are putting restrictions on everything that could potentially be harmful to us with the latest target being swings. Yes. Swings. In a school district in Richland, Washington, school administrators fear that this sort of injury is easily handled by eliminating the swings. “As schools get modernized or renovated or as we’re doing work on the playground equipment, we’ll take out the swings,” said Richland School District’s Steve Aagard. “It’s just really a safety issue, swings have been determined to be the most unsafe of all the playground equipment on a playground.”

Yet the Richland School District clearly needs to check their research as the CDC's report cites that on public playgrounds, climbing structures are number one with swings being more of an issue at home playgrounds. While we are at it, let's just stop girls from playing on the playground because they get hurt more often than boys. See where this is going? Yes. It's crazy.

Imagine getting rid of swings because of a potential to get hurt. Are we raising children or bubble kids?  Swings are liberating. Swings can give you that feeling that you are unstoppable. They support the idea that if you could only pump your legs in such a rhythm, that you could touch the sky. Without swings this idea will be stolen from the kids of Richland. All because kids have gotten injured by walking in front of a swing.

If you've spent any time on the playground like I have, you have seen this happen. Toddlers will never take a wide berth when it comes to the swings, they have no concept of what is about to happen. They only see the delight in other's faces and the shrieks emanating from their source. Something this good is something is something I want to do so I am headed there posthaste.

Meanwhile, while you glanced away for that one second your child is headed into the Danger Zone and not in a cool Kenny Loggins sort of way. Despite this occasional accident you'll notice a change in a child who has faced the swings and lost, they never get that close again without looking.  Ever.

We are over protecting our kids. Yes there is of course research that says otherwise. According to the National Safety Council, playground injuries send more than 200,000 American children to the emergency room each year. And every year, about 15 playground accidents turn fatal.

Researchers have concluded that the extra safe material is actually causing more injuries because kids rely on it for cushioning their falls more. The study in Accident Analysis and Prevention found that more than 80 percent of kids severely injured in falls landed on a so-called "safe" surface. The problem: the surfaces were often only one inch deep, far less than an effective level.

Playgrounds now often have rubberized flooring or shredded rubber instead of dirt or in the case of my elementary school back in the day, pea gravel. You learned fast how to land for fear of embedding your knees with BB sized rocks and a wipeout most certainly ended with the school nurse's generous application of what we called "liquid sting" otherwise known as Bactine.

My generation has become much more careful than generations previous when it comes to all things safety. In our first two homes, I babyproofed every cabinet, put a lock on the oven door, and even bought a toilet lock which I promptly broke after I myself, was denied The John and couldn't figure out the combination.  With our last child we did none of that and she is by far the most adventurous of the three of them. She walked at nine months which resulted in her first stitches to her head but that didn't stop her from exploring. 

I don't remember my parents babyproofing every cabinet but I do remember the Mr. Yucky sticker under the sink. His face was everywhere.  I also learned the hard way that the dog biscuits under the sink weren't for my consumption and that you shouldn't under any circumstances flush your mom's perfume bottles down the toilet.

My dad used to yell from the stands in baseball "Rub some dirt on it!" like the Windex all cure. Once when I slid into second and the base was dislodged, the post underneath took a chunk out of my knee but I still played on. My kids would never forge ahead. If it were them I'm sure the game would be called and everyone given a medal for participation and we'd all go home for ice cream because we tried.

I asked my nine year old son what he thought of a school district taking away swings. He said he didn't know what he would do without swings; that talking with friends while the time slipped past or having a swing off to see who could go highest wouldn't be an option. "Why do they want to get rid of swings dad?" he said. " Because kids get hurt when they walk in front or behind them" I said. "Sounds like it's an improper education on the dangers of swings and not the actual swings that are the problem" he said.

If getting rid of swings because kids get hit while other kids are using them is the problem, let's go ahead and eliminate baseball right now or any instance where children may accidentally be hurt by another child because of some activity. Swings? Check. Slides? Gone. Monkey bars? Deathtraps. Water parks? Drain them of all the water because kids might drown you savages!

How about we just keep a better eye on our children and educate them to stay clear of kids on swings until it's their turn to use one? Let's give kids a chance to shoot for the sky and try to grab the clouds. To spend time with their friends just sitting and talking when play is not part of how they are feeling that day.  Me? I'm headed to the playground to enjoy a swing with my children before someone else thinks this might be a good idea. You may want to keep your feet on the the ground, but I just want to swing.


  1. let kids be kids for god's sake...

  2. I kind of feel like the underlying problem behind eliminating all of the fun stuff is really just litigation. These places (schools, townships, etc) are terrified that someone will sue them when a child gets hurt...and they will win the suit. Certain things are becoming more safe just because we are better educated about the risks and easy avoidance (bike helmets, locking chemicals, etc) but for the public places, lawsuits will ruin everything.

  3. Being a teacher and having students who play on a playground every day, I can tell you that equipment getting removed has been the result of 2 things: broken and/or worn out equipment that was unusable, or equipment that was perfectly usable but some kid got hurt and mom and dad sued so it's taken out.

  4. Nice post Chris - can't agree with you more. Let kids walk on the wild side. We can't protect them from everything nor should we. Run, explore, fall, get up - it's part of growing up and a life lesson.

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