I’ve noticed more articles on a theme that resonates with me personally and professionally: people are finding increasingly that modern playgrounds lack challenge and are potentially “too safe”. Last year, the New York Times published a widely circulated article titled “Can a Playground Be Too Safe?”. The article cites important studies that show children need to encounter risks and overcome fears on the playground to properly mature emotionally and physically. Modern regulations and widespread litigation, the article points out, have resulted in playgrounds that are often boring and not as safe for children as originally intended. One of our senior designers here at Ross Recreation, Judy Ogburn, observed that parents at playgrounds often fail to exercise proper child supervision because they perceive the modern playground as a “risk-free environment” for children and are lulled into a false sense of security.
In reading a more recent article published by ABC News, entitled Overprotective Parents Imperil Kids at the Playground, one statement in particular stood out for me:
“Playgrounds are, in many ways, a microcosm of a child’s world,” says Mark A. Reinecke, chair of psychology and child development at Northwestern University in Illinois. “The lessons learned there reverberate through their lives.”
My favorite childhood memories of outdoor play included building forts in wetlands behind our home, and flying high over a creek on a homemade tire swing. Those experiences, sadly, for most children may no longer be possible. As adults, we all want a safe play environment for our children and grandchildren. We want environments that encourage curiosity, social play, and problem solving. At the same time, we hope for playgrounds that encourage excitement, offer adventure, and provide graduated risk taking for kids, all formative experiences that shape kids’ development in a positive fashion.
By Ewing Philbin