One of my earliest school memories involves biting the dust while climbing an oversized metal spider in the middle of our playground. Morning dew and my mother’s shoe selection were equally to blame.
But I didn’t give up on the challenge. And, by the end of that week, I conquered the source of my fleeting Kindergarten shame.
It would be decades before I would see equipment that resembled that delightful spider I once cursed. Last week, in fact, I took our kids to a park with a similarly aged steel insect and a rusted merry-go-round. As you may have guessed, both still inspire squeals of joy…and caution.
Without words, I could read my husband’s thoughts. How much longer will they last?
Plastic playground equipment, of course, is nothing new, but the trend of strictly privatized backyard play was rare for those of us who are older Millennials. Not only are parks now utilized less frequently, but tall fences and elaborate personal playgrounds flourish.
I considered the origin of our changing societal attitudes about communal play. Does more parental control make play safer? When we remove physical opportunities for failure do we inhibit kids’ growth? And are we stifling children’s ability to resolve internal and external conflict when we privatize childhood play?
The final question, perhaps, stings the most: Are we driving the next generation indoors?
In recent years, as overtly evidenced in politics, there has been a great falling away from central institutions: schools, libraries, government, etc. I wonder if the leaning tower of cultural opinion has cast its shade on parks as well.
While I don’t long for a blistering metal slide or a heavy, irrational tire swing, a part of me understands that I cannot transfer this kind of essential kinesthetic learning to my children. They must experience the slipping themselves. And no matter how much I sanitize and personalize play, fear and failure will be theirs to navigate.
In fact, a healthy adulthood requires it.
More on the debate:
- The New York Times: “Question on the Playground: Where Are the Slides?”
- Philadelphia news: “Officials celebrate six new playgrounds, pledge more to come”
- Online commentary: “The future of playgrounds might be in virtual reality”
One Year Ago: The Racist in Me