I Miss That Old Playground… Even If I Did Break A Few Bones

Posted on July 21, 2011 by

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Central Park slide

Oooh Jake, that slide is quick!

Just past Central Park’s 81st Street entrance, there is a playground with a tall slide that climbs into the air, high like a skyscraper. The rails are pretty low and the wood tower adjacent to the slide isn’t all that safe—two bars are about all that holds your child in. (See picture above.) When Jake was younger and less entertained by DS, we’d stroll over to the playground often because my mother, who lives in Manhattan, is only a few blocks from there.

The slide envokes such fear in my mother when we’ve taken my son to this playground I’ve had to instruct her to stand outside the playground gate and face the other way. My mother was so TERRIFIED that Jake was going to fall off the slide into the massive sand box below, that she’d still SCREAM to me from the gate doors, “Watch him!” My mother is a loving, protective grandmother. I get that. And, yes, this is a tall slide. I’ll also guarantee that the structure is outdated by our playground standards—in fact, it was built about 30 years ago.

The truth is, my feeling always differed from my mother’s. I loved how sort of scary and sketchy the playground was. I loved that the slide was so damn high. Slides should scare the shit out of you. That’s why they’re fun. Believe me, if Jake didn’t want to head down it, we would have found something else. But he was fearless, my son. He loved that slide! So I encouraged him.

Maybe  I wasn’t so wrong. A recent New York Times article “Can a Playground Be Too Safe?” explores the psychology of t0o-safe playgrounds.

“Children need to encounter risks and overcome fears on the playground,” said Ellen Sandseter, a professor of psychology at Queen Maud University in Norway. “I think monkey bars and tall slides are great. As playgrounds become more and more boring, these are some of the few features that still can give children thrilling experiences with heights and high speed.”

merry go round

Remember that fear of having to hold on... and the big kids would spin it faster and faster?

Remember the days of see saws and merry go-rounds? You held on to that merry go-round for dear life for fear of being whipped off. Did it build up your arm muscle? Sure it did! Did it give you confidence? Aboslutely. You felt proud if you could scale a ten foot jungle gym or hold on to the merry go-round when the bigger kids were spinning it. But fear of lawsuits prompted the removal of most old-school play structures–including the beloved merry go-round.

My mind wanders to Kramer vs. Kramer in that scene where his son, Billy, falls off the jungle gym. Blood is spurting from his face (his chin, his forehead? I can’t remember.) Dustin Hoffman sprints to the hospital with his boy in his arms. But Billy was fine! Most kids who weren’t playing adorable characters in movies and who fell off of jungle gyms in the 70s were fine too! Says the Times:

…Falls are the common form of playground injury. But these rarely cause permanent damage, either physically or emotionally. While some psychologists — and many parents — have worried that a child who suffered a bad fall would develop a fear of heights, studies have shown the opposite pattern: A child who’s hurt in a fall before the age of 9 is less likely as a teenager to have a fear of heights.

Sometimes we have to allow our children to take a step forward–even if it’s an unbalanced or unsafe step. We can’t keep our children safe from every instance in life. They have to learn how to not be afraid as well. Isn’t there enough fear in the world — why focus on the playground? Shouldn’t we let them explore, or climb higher, or go faster? Even if it means they might get hurt?

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Posted in: Kids