Are playgrounds too safe?

It wasn’t really recess unless the writhing screams of an eight-year-old wafted across the schoolyard.

Busted lips and twisted ankles, broken bones and minor concussions were commonplace when growing up, and these injuries happened off the jungle gym.

Cohen, 2, laughs while swinging at a park in S.W. Calgary. His mom and dad were and he were enjoying the warm weather and the park. (Photo by Jeremy Ash/SAIT Polytechnic)

Cohen, 2, laughs while swinging at a park in S.W. Calgary. His mom and dad were and he were enjoying the warm weather and the park. (Photo by Jeremy Ash/SAIT Polytechnic)

There was never a shortage of scratched eyeballs from playing with sticks, concussed heads from sliding on ice and smashed lips playing football.

Kids will be kids, and no matter how hard a parent tries, they will find a way to get injured.

Play in the past consisted of reaching for poles that were too high, and sliding down slides that were too steep and jumping on bridges that wiggled too recklessly. Kids crashed and fell, twisted, strained pulled, sprained and laughed and laughed,
and laughed.

Tlou Connery, parent of a two-year-old, has been taking him to the playground ever since he could walk.

She hadn’t been to one in decades, and was excited to see up close some of the gadgets that, up until now, she had only driven by.

“My playground was just swings, a teeter-totter and a slide. There is so much more to the playground these days,” said Connery.

Now, the ground is a soft recycled tire crumb, and everything is coated in rubber. That means no more frozen tongues to metal poles, and nothing, wiggles or jiggles or pinches at all. These are all good things.

However, reports are surfacing that playgrounds today are not challenging our children, and are, in fact, too safe.

“You can’t fall off the merry-go-round, as they rope you in [now]. I preferred the other one that you had to hold on for your life as it whipped around,” said Connery.

Dr. Mariana Brussoni, associate professor in the department of paediatrics and Susan Herrington, professor of architecture and landscape architecture, both at the University of British Columbia, co-authored a study on playground safety titled Play Worth Remembering: Gaining Public Insights into Memories of Outdoor Play Spaces.

As part of the study, the UBC researchers found that 74 per cent of males and 68 per cent of females felt playgrounds were too safe and lacked challenge.

“Kids need risk experiences,” said Dr. Brussoni in an article published by the UBC’s Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies.

“If you take risks, then you learn how to navigate the world,” says Herrington.

Well, that’s just stating the obvious.

It’s hogwash to say that play structures are to blame for a lack of risk taking and boredom by today’s children.

The term “helicopter parent” refers to parents that over protect, or hover over their children in a vain and futile attempt to keep them from getting the tiniest of scratches.

Helicopter parenting is robbing the children of today.

It denies a child the understanding of boundaries, risk assessment and what it feels like to fail and to succeed.

Not everyone can climb the rock wall and not everyone will get a blue ribbon. These are valuable and necessary lessons in a child’s life.

Whether it’s a sand box, a pointy stick, a sheet of ice, children will figure out a way to take risks.

The design of a playground can’t be blamed for a child’s lack of imagination. That is entirely the fault of the parent.

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