Are Playgrounds too Safe?

  • This topic has 1 reply, 7 voices, and was last updated 13 years ago by nca.
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  • #176970
    Andrew Spiering
    Participant

    One of our members brought up an interesting question in her latest blog post- Are playgrounds too safe? Read her blog post, HERE.
    I have read several articles about this topic in LAM over the past few months, as well. I would be interested to know your thoughts…

    Thanks in advance!
    Andrew

    #176980
    nca
    Participant

    I think everything, in general, in America is “too safe.”

    If it weren’t for all these damn insurance companies and sue-happy lawyers running the show, not to mention the pharmaceutical companies…Am I close?

    But seriously, I think the general sanitization of every possible opportunity in the landscape makes for a pretty boring place and in alot of cases, can really ruin the experience. The company I’m working for now is working on a project along the rim of the Grand Canyon…seems like every idea we come up with ends with something like “well, they could throw that off…” At some point I just want to say (and have actually) “…well, let em.”

    I think the issue goes way beyond playgrounds!! Good topic..

    #176979

    Yes they are….If you go to Europe they do way cooler playgrounds…..like the use of Kompan Play Equipment….If you haven’t heard of the stuff it is cause it not considered the safest play equipment, but that is cause it is the coolest play equipment and the most fun…..

    That’s my take!

    #176978
    Tracey
    Participant

    Having worked in childcare before, I have to say that no, playgrounds are not too safe. Generally, I agree that America is sue-happy and more sanitized than I’d like. However, even safe-looking playgrounds are not as safe as they appear. We used to call them “accidents waiting to happen.”

    Even “safe” playgrounds require vigilant child supervision. When I was in childcare, we had a lot of trained staff people working with the kids. Even then, kids got hurt. If the structures were taller or less stable, kids could get permanently injured (which is why they took them down).

    So in theory, I’d love to say let’s just teach our kids to keep themselves save — but when you are actually watching kids or have your own, I think you change your tune.

    #176977
    nca
    Participant

    Okay, maybe..

    But I’ll again emphasize that I think this topic reaches much beyond playgrounds and equipment. It seems like too many people are in the business of telling those left with some semblance of an imagination what they CANT do. I’m barely getting started and it’s already become clear that theres alot more money in counting beans than making them.

    I count “safety-engineering” into this whole huge category of “constrainers”…But now I’m ranting..

    Tracey said:

    Having worked in childcare before, I have to say that no, playgrounds are not too safe. Generally, I agree that America is sue-happy and more sanitized than I’d like. However, even safe-looking playgrounds are not as safe as they appear. We used to call them “accidents waiting to happen.”

    Even “safe” playgrounds require vigilant child supervision. When I was in childcare, we had a lot of trained staff people working with the kids. Even then, kids got hurt. If the structures were taller or less stable, kids could get permanently injured (which is why they took them down).

    So in theory, I’d love to say let’s just teach our kids to keep themselves save — but when you are actually watching kids or have your own, I think you change your tune.

    #176976
    Andrew Spiering
    Participant

    These are great examples of playgrounds that still allow kids to be “unsafe.”

    #176975
    Claudia Chalfa
    Participant

    I played in a creek my entire childhood. This was in Georgia, where there are numerous varieties of poisonous snakes. There were also dogs, poison ivy and a weird neighbor who carried a gun. But miraculously, I survived and am much the better it. I learned how to build dams and mud/reed huts for my barbies. I made little sculptures out of seeds and other odd objects found in nature (I still make funny little sculptures today). They say that what you play as a child determines what you become as an adult. I believe this is very true. Why can’t we just put creeks in every play area?

    #176974
    Stephen Gibson
    Participant

    Too safe? Yep! I’m an Aussie living in the United States at the moment and the biggest problem I see is what Nick said in the first post – everything is too safe. I have a 3 year old son, so we see a lot of playgrounds and I really wish there were some that allowed him to learn about things other than plastic and rubber. We went to Perth, Australia, back in July for a job interview and we found a playground that was awesome – based around a little man-made lake (which would NEVER happen in the U.S.), it told the story of the evolution of the dinosours. There were huge dinosaur sculptures to play on and it was set on the edge of a natural bushland setting, so (at his age) he could explore the dinosaurs and then explore the natural bush. We were there for 5 hours!!! And neither of us were bored at all.

    What i think is that the U.S. playgrounds and U.S. design in general doesn’t allow people to learn about their environment – they are always kept at a safe distance from it. The other problem is that in the U.S. there are so many rules and regulations, it stiffles the design process and general creativity – you end up getting a lot of the same (at least where I live in Southern California!). Most of the playgrounds in Irvine where I live are Kompan – you don’t design those, you pick them out of a catalog! There’s no design in that – it just makes the design process so homogeneous.

    Where I think the biggest issue comes in is that parents are not vigilent enough about keeping an eye on their children – THIS is the problem, not the safety of the playgrounds. When i play with my son at the playground, I see so many parents looking the other way and not engaging with their children. If they actually got in there and played alongside their kids, they’d not only have a stronger bond to their children, but would also know when their child is getting into something that was beyond their ability.

    I could go on, but I’ll spare you all!

    Hope I haven’t offended anyone by saying this – it’s just one opinion.

    #176973
    Claudia Chalfa
    Participant

    Stephen, you haven’t offended me, but at the same time I think you should know that not all Americans agree with this overzealous safety mentality. America has definitely gone overboard with fear of litigation, and this is what is driving much of the playground design these days. You should know that the UK is basically the same; l I worked in Northern Ireland last summer and they have playground safety standards that are at least as stringent as ours over here. I think the goal should be designing natural areas that are easily accessible by everyone. If you don’t call it a playground, the liability is much lower. We have a small park in our town that has a playground, but it also has a creek running right through the middle of it. I’m sure you aren’t surprised to hear that the kids play in the creek more than they play on the expensive playground equipment. Children need to be allowed to get dirty and muddy and watch water snakes and maybe even (gasp!) get stung by a bee or pinched by a crayfish. And I agree with you, that the parents should at least be nearby if not interacting. The point is, please don’t judge us by our playground design, most Americans would probably agree with you that things have gotten carried away.

    I thought you’d enjoy this:

    Subject: I can’t believe we made it!

    According to today’s regulators and bureaucrats, those of us who were kids in the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s or even the early 80’s, probably shouldn’t have survived.

    Our baby cribs were covered with bright colored lead-based paint.

    We had no childproof lids or locks on medicine bottles, doors, or cabinets, and when we rode our bikes, we had no helmets.

    Not to mention the risks we took hitchhiking.

    As children, we would ride in cars with no seat belts or air bags.

    Riding in the back of a pickup truck on a warm day was always a special treat.

    We drank water from the garden hose and not from a bottle. Horrors!

    We ate cupcakes, bread and butter, and drank soda pop with sugar in it, but we were never overweight because we were always outside playing.

    We shared one soft drink with four friends, from one bottle, and no one actually died from this.

    We would spend hours building our go-carts out of scraps and then rode down the hill, only to find out we forgot the brakes. After running into the bushes a few times, we learned to solve the problem.

    We would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back when the street lights came on.

    No one was able to reach us all day! No cell phones. Unthinkable!

    We did not have Playstations, Nintendo 64, X-Boxes, no video games at all, no 99 channels on cable, video tape movies, surround sound, personal cell phones, personal computers, or Internet chat rooms.

    We had friends! We went outside and found them.

    We played dodge ball, and sometimes, the ball would really hurt.

    We fell out of trees, got cut and broke bones and teeth, and there were no lawsuits from these accidents. They were accidents. No one was to blame but us. Remember accidents?

    We had fights and punched each other and got black and blue and learned to get over it.

    We made up games with sticks and tennis balls and, although we were told it would happen, we did not put out any eyes.

    We rode bikes or walked to a friend’s home and knocked on the door, or rang the bell or just walked in and talked to them.

    Little League had tryouts ! and not everyone made the team. Those who didn’t had to learn to deal with disappointment.

    Some students weren’t as smart as others, so they failed a grade and were held back to repeat the same grade. Horrors!

    Tests were not adjusted for any reason.

    Our actions were our own. Consequences were expected.

    The idea of parents bailing us out if we got in trouble in school or broke a law was unheard of. They actually sided with the school or the law. Imagine that!

    This generation has produced some of the best risk takers, problem solvers, and inventors, ever.

    We had freedom, failure, success, and
    responsibility — and we learned how to deal with it.

    And you’re one of them!

    Congratulations.

    #176972
    Stephen Gibson
    Participant

    Claudia – this is awesome. You’ve just described my upbringing!!! And the one I want my son to have. I played in a creek when I was a kid too and was stung and bitten by everything! With that said, maybe I was a little too harsh in laying a blanket statement over the whole U.S. with my thoughts on design. I’ve lived in Southern California for too many years I guess, but here I’ve come across developers and city plan check officials that won’t allow any other playgrounds to pass inspection unless they are Kompan because of safety issues. I am just having difficulty with accepting the insular nature of our current existance – design, technology, on-line shopping etc. Perhaps a personal problem I should work on 😉

    #176971
    Barbara Peterson
    Participant

    I would generally agree that playgrounds are too ‘safe’. But by that I mean too boring.

    I have a 9 year old son who has been ‘testing out’ playgrounds for me for years (he was our unofficial office ‘playground tester’ before he started school). I’ve allowed him to test them out how he wanted …okay, at first I made him ‘follow the rules’. You know, “go down a slide, not up”, ” don’t climb on the outside of the equipment”, etc. But as he got to know the play equipment, he became bored with the playgrounds (and we visited lots!) I realized that he needed more of a challenge than was offered (remember he is 9 so he falls in the 5-12 category)…and so do his friends. So, he was allowed to climb wherever he wanted and hang off whatever he wanted, and we ‘checked’ out the creeks (the drainage areas)…’dangerous’ maybe but not as much as when my grandparents sent my sisters and I to the woods when we were tweens without supervision of any kind – with just the instructions of ‘come home at 6 pm for supper’….

    I don’t blame kids for being bored. I’ve designed enough of those playgrounds. You know: large grassy fields (great for team sports or flying kites but generally boring for imaginary play), a concrete walkway (great for walking, skating, cycling – good), and a couple of pieces of ‘standard’ play equipment on mulch surfacing (play on it a few times and you’ve tried everything in every possible fashion).

    Part of the problem is of course liability but funding / small budgets, and requests for standard equipment because it is easy to fix – keep enough parts and you’re ‘good’ – and no area feels slighted because another area got something ‘better’. And ease of maintenance and lack of creativity, as was mentioned earlier. And yes, I believe that parents have a part in the blame: I do not agree that parents don’t watch their kids enough…okay some don’t…but I think that there is a misconception that kids have to be ‘safe’ all the time. Overly ‘safe’ creates quick boredom.

    We need to work harder at getting cities, developers, etc. to realize the play is an important learning process for children and that adequate funding is required to create play areas that are creative, fun, challenging and changable over time. We need to create reasons for parents to get off the computer and take their kids outside to a place that is fun to explore….and isn’t boring.

    (And don’t get me started on the outdoor electronic ‘games’…..)

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