What do playgrounds say about us?


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:

::today’s daily inspiration::

One Year Ago:  The Racist in Me

5 thoughts on “What do playgrounds say about us?

  1. Brian Tackman

    Wonderful write Lauren. In my opinion to the question you proposed – ” Are we driving the next generation indoors ? ” I believe this has already come to fruition and has been taking place for quite some time. Through the use of electronics, children no longer “play” using any actual physical effort whatsoever (causing many other health issues as well). I believe the amount time children spend indoors sitting sedentary is staggering. When I was a child, I can remember long summertime days of spending endless hours outdoors do all sorts of activities – rain or shine. I am not sure what the exact ramifications will be on the current generation of children and the lack of outside actiivities/physical exercise, but I do not believe it will benefit them.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I totally agree, Brian. Thank you for the thoughtful response. And while it’s easy to point the finger at parents, I think zoning and the allocation of resources (most often decisions beyond the control of the average parent) have tied our hands. For example, if a park isn’t safe or taken care of, the child/youth presence will naturally fall. But you make an excellent point. If part of parents’ motivation is to keep their child from playground risks, what about the detriment to mental health, core strength, etc. when they remain indoors, which is such an easy alternative when play becomes privatized? These are the questions we need to be asking more.


  2. I love this post. I’m always finding it amusing that my five-year-old son is seemingly automatically drawn to the more “dangerous” playgrounds because many we’ve tried out are, in his words, “boring.”

    God forbid a kid has a little danger in their life! No ones saying to have them play in traffic, but overly coddling them is really bad in its own right.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it’s quite humorous to see how our kids respond to our attempts at “safety” (and perhaps a reminder that we don’t always get it right). I, too, think a little danger is healthy. I joke that we’re raising our children to be warriors, but, you know, I’m only half-kidding. Because there are have been times (e.g. https://unlearningblog.com/2016/03/28/the-thrill-of-flying/) where that risk-taking and muscle development was essential to survival. Here’s to a nice balance of love and grit!

      Liked by 1 person

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