A few years ago (2011) in an interview on ABC radio, an early childhood expert - Prue Walsh, spoke out saying Public playgrounds have become too safe. She believes that the influence of insurance costs and the fear of councils and schools being sued are part of the problem in making playgrounds unimaginative and too safe for our children.
I agree with her opinion completely. I recently watched a TV programme called 'Lost Adventures of Childhood' which covered this very topic of discussion.
I certainly remember playgrounds being a lot different when I was a child. My local park had a row of four swings, a roundabout and a large slide. Todays playgrounds don't seem to have as many swings in a row, nor go as high as the ones I remember. Nowadays, playgrounds are more brightly coloured, with a lot more rails and enclosed parts. They are more restrictive and allow less scope for imagination. Playgrounds used to be very simple and encouraged children to be imaginative in their play and to take risks, with high swings and jumps.
So are risks a good thing? Do more risks mean more injuries and more broken bones? I think these would happen anyway. Kids will always find places and ways to take risks, and if they don't find this in playgrounds when they are young, then where and when will they start to take those risks?
I think that generally today there is a tendency to over-protect our children. Kids 'go out and play' far less than in previous generations, partly due to the advent of computer and video games, but also because parents are aware of the dangerous nature of the world we live in thanks to the ever present media. But is the world really any more dangerours than in the past- or are we just more aware of those dangers?
By not letting our children take risks, how will they learn where the boundaries of common sense lie? How will they learn to think for themselves and become adapatable and self-confident?
Making playgrounds safer and subject to more rules and regulations is also detremental to our kids physical development. Play is nature's way of making sure we learn necessary skills. A few years ago I remember a friend being told to take her child to a park and tell him to climb the wrong way up a slide in order to help him improve his underdeveloped motor skills. Kids should not need to be 'told' to play and experiment, it should be a natural part of their lives. I see skills being 'taught' in schools now - like balancing and climbing. Surely kids should already have acquired these skills by the time they start school!
Are we stunting an aspect of the growth of our children in trying to protect them? Injuries, scrapes, bruises and even broken bones are a part of a regular normal childhood. Patterns of behaviour are leant from risk taking and from making mistakes.
At the end of the TV programme I mentioned earlier (Lost adventures of Childhood) mention was made of special adventure playgrounds that have been built in the UK, which provide a structured and supervised place for children to take risks. Basically it's like taking them back to what playgrounds used to be like!
It seems that we are now coming full circle and realising we have taken the real 'play' out of playgrounds. Hopefully playgrounds will start to return to the real adventure playgrounds I remember from my childhood, and our children can be allowed to play as nature intended again!
Do you agree? Or are you happy that playgrounds have become so 'safe' now, and children are less likely to hurt themselves there?