Where do the children play?

Cabinet magazine

The other week I was helping at a working bee for my son’s school, on of the jobs I had to do was raking the mounds of bark around the playground back into some semblence of order from where it has all accumulated.

I was working with two other Dads…one from Zimbabwe and one from South Africa. We commented on the playgrounds of our youth…that all this palaver of soft surfaces and such was making kids sissies. I remembered a big slide I used to use that had nothing but grass surrounding it….of a flying fox at Pauanui that would never be able to be built these days, they remembered the hard packed earth around their playgrounds.

It turns out that in making playgrounds “safe” we may have in fact stunted our kids:

In the summer of 2011, the New York Times published an article asking, “Can a Playground Be Too Safe?” It cited recent studies in the US and Europe documenting how antiseptic safety-first playgrounds may actually stunt emotional and cognitive development and leave children not only decidedly bored and under-stimulated but with skewed abilities to manage real-world risk later in life. The research also suggested that claims (made by the manufacturers, who had lobbied for stricter safety standards in the first place) that injuries had decreased overall thanks to the new play equipment may have been incorrect, and that total injuries may have actually risen due to the illusory perception of a danger-free zone. Either way, researchers agreed that mastering challenges, negotiating risks, and overcoming fears were critical to healthy play.


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  • In Vino Veritas

    I am a BOT member at an Auckland primary school. We have been forced to change the surfaces of our play areas three times in my term. The differences in number and type of injuries sustained by kids is statistically insignificant from year to year over the time I have been there. Anecdotal evidence suggests kids are no safer that they were 20 years ago.

    Kids these days grow up with no idea how to judge and handle risk, and consequently when they get older, make bad decisions because of this. The nanny state and soft parents have a lot to answer for.

  • Guest

    I remember my the playground of my primary school.  You had to be Standard 1 or higher (8y.o I think), but it was 3 stories high had a slide that went from the top to the bottom but best of yet a fireman’s poll which had a wooden platform with 2 or 3 tractor tyres under it as the “landing zone”.

    When I first started it had complely open to the elements, with high handrails.  Then after a few years it was decided to make it safer by “wrapping” it in cyclon fencing.  This made it very easy for the kids to climb on the outside of it and after one kid fell from the outside and broke his arm it was decided to fully enclose it, with it ending up looking like some sort of medieval siege tower.

    After I left though the fireman’s poll was remove after it being decided that it was too safe and then eventually the whole thing dismantled.

    I still drive past my old primary sometimes and think what a waste that today’s pupils don’t have the same opportunity to enjoy “The tower”.

    • Steve (North Shore)

      Pole* Sorry about that chief. We should have a poll on the poles that have been removed.
      Also, is that super long slide still at Hamilton Lake? that was fun

  • Dave

     If playgrounds are “too safe”, exactly how unsafe do you think
    playground suppliers should be permitted to make playgrounds?

    Sure, everyone thinks playgrounds are too safe….  until their kid
    gets hurt, then they’re the first ones on the phone to the councils
    or marching down to the school office demanding to know why their
    child wasn’t protected from every bump and scrape.

    “I remembered a big slide I used to use that had nothing but grass
    surrounding it….of a flying fox at Pauanui that would never be able
    to be built these days, they remembered the hard packed earth around
    their playgrounds.”

    Fair enough Cam, but you probably also remember when it wasn’t
    mandatory to make your kids wear seat belts and when it was okay
    smoke a cigerette with your kids in the car.  Times change and so
    does what is deemed acceptable risk for our kids. 

    • Karlos

      Kids injure themselves, that’s how they learn their limits, when they don’t get a chance to injure themselves in the playground then they are fearless when they get behind the wheel of a car ‘cos what could go wrong?

      Humans have pain receptors for a reason, and this is why my children will be playing Rugby League when they are 5 or 6, only chance left for them to hurt themselves in this god foresaken, mamsy-pamsy, nanny-state nation we call home!

  • Controlled risk is good! (Wish I could put that in bold)

    About 15 years ago we picked up a $50 jungle gym (the old ones in a cube of 1″ steel pipes) from the local kindy – too dangerous for 3 and 4 year-olds – my 2 and 3 year-olds loved it.

    Have just returned from a weekend in Hamilton where we played on a hamster wheel and the 13, 15, and 21 year-olds loved it, comment from the 13yo, “I wish we had these in Hastings.” There was also a low-key flying fox on which the  47yo had a ball going down upside down. Found a local kid and pushed the moder equivalent of the tyre swing to its limit.

    Finished up the weeekend on the high wires in Taupo – awesome!!

    People want/need a thrill, why else would the sideshows, rollercoasters, theme parks be so popular?

    In palygrounds, getting hurt is not so bad…