Playground Politics

I wanted to continue to keep things light here.  I did read two articles today (and both were excellent reads), but I ended up choosing the article on playgrounds for two reasons.  First, every child remembers playing on playgrounds (as a side note, when my best friend got married, we took pictures on a carousel, which was great – and I would love to do – but I think even more I would love to tweak it and get my pictures – or at least some of them – taken on a playground).  Second, I think the article makes some very good points.

For children, the playground is, in many ways, a place where rites of passage take place.  A playground is something that can be used as a form of bribery, a privilege that can be taken away, and a stomping ground for what is to come later in life.  It is a place where politics can first be seen and a safe haven for many.  A playground is a magical thing that can live in a child’s memory forever.

But are playgrounds becoming too safe?

In the district that I grew up in, and maybe of the districts around my area, the playgrounds (and many of the other outdated equipment and school grounds) are being updated.  And these updates are not necessarily bad things.  But I still fondly remember both of the playgrounds that I grew up on.  They were both very similar, but very different as well.  Both were wooden (which I think caused a lot of grief and is something that both teachers and aides are glad to be rid of) and both had a castle-esque feel to them – meaning, they had towers and almost hidden pathways that were small and hard for adults to get into…they were meant for kids.  I loved those playgrounds.  I loved to run around them.  I loved to play hide and seek in them.  I loved to make my way, all the way, to the top of the tallest point or to try and stay in the lowest path possible.  I loved playing the don’t touch the ground game as almost everything was connected in some way by a jump (that seemed impossible as you tried to make it).  I loved that there were places that adults couldn’t get into easily because it meant that it was for us – the kids.  I probably remember more about the playgrounds than the classrooms (in specifics anyways) and that’s saying a lot as I loved school and am going to hopefully (soon) be a teacher in my own classroom!

Those wooden playgrounds are gone now.  They have been replaced by plastic marvels that I have not thoroughly explored yet – although, writing this post makes me want to go out some night and explore them.  Those wooden playgrounds will most likely never come back.  And while there are many cool things about these new playgrounds, there is something whimsical that is missing from them.

Do I think that playgrounds have become too safe in there rebuilding?  I’m not sure.  As I said, I have not thoroughly explored the new playgrounds near me.  But I do believe that it is important to have a playground that will test the limits of kids.  A lot of stuff happens on the playground and while it doesn’t all happen on the actual structure, per se, I think it’s important to keep some things intact.  Here are a few things that I believe every playground should have (even if parents believe they aren’t safe).

Monkey bars.  Monkey bars can be dangerous.  It is also something so triumphant to see someone completely cross those monkey bars all on their own.  Monkey bars build arm strength and they build courage.  It takes a lot of guts to try and cross the monkey bars that seem so high off of the ground by yourself.  It takes a lot of strength to be able to cross the monkey bars all by yourself.

Slides.  A playground is not a real playground if it doesn’t have a slide.  And the slides need to be of varying lengths because no fifth grader wants to slide down a tiny slide that is meant for kindergartners that are half their size.  Slides are essential for kids.  Back in the day, when slides were metal – like the ones on my playground were – there was the added factor of making sure that the slide wasn’t too hot, or going down it anyways even when it might be.  I also loved the slides that were wide enough for two people to go down at once because who doesn’t love holding hands with their best friend and squealing with delight as they go down the slide?  Also, who can forget the daunting task of breaking the rules and climbing all the way up the tallest slide and the jubilation to be able to slide back down it.

Something to climb.  This something must have a way/place to stop and must be high enough that it challenges fears.  It must be something that is not 100% safe.  Kids should be able to fall off of it and hurt themselves.  They should be able to challenge themselves to reach the top when they are ready.  They need to learn that not everything can be done when they want it because they may not be ready – emotionally or physically – but when they are ready and they conquer it, nothing will feel better.

Swings.  Again, I don’t believe that a playground is a playground without having swings.  It is definitely a rite of passage to be able to swing by yourself, to see who can go to the highest, to learn when to jump off (and when not to).  It is also a rite of passage to be yelled at because you’ve gotten too close to someone swinging or to fall and get hurt because you can’t stop the momentum of the swing.  It is important to learn that sometimes, when someone has enough momentum, the best thing you can do is stay a safe distance away so that you don’t get hurt yourself.

A secret hiding place/areas that are too small for adults to be in comfortably.  This just makes it something that is a kids.  If an adult can’t fit into it comfortably, they aren’t going to want to use it.  And then it becomes solely for kids, not for adults…and kids need things to take ownership over.

Playgrounds are essential to the growth and education of students.  They are as important, at times maybe more important, than academics.  They need to be made in such a way that they test kids limits and help them grow, not stunt them and keep them at a place that is not good for them.

How you feel about playgrounds?  What were your playgrounds like as a child?  Can you still remember playing on them?  Do you think playgrounds are too safe now?  Would you add anything to my list of playground requirements?

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