We recently received this note from Bridget, a concerned parent who is having a hard time finding playgrounds that stimulate and challenge her 10- and 11-year-old children. We're hoping our readers can help her out! Here's Bridget:
I came across your website and blog via a link from our kids' school. They are raising money to build a new playground to replace the old playground.
And I'm worried.
I'm worried because every single playground renovation in our town so far has taken a playground that was fun for lots of kids and replaced it with a boring, plain vanilla metal structure that is uninteresting for anyone older than seven. My kids are 10 and 11 and they are extremely upset that the really cool wooden structure is coming down, because "they're just going to replace it with another stupid tot lot" (their words).
I would love to get involved with the playground renovation, but I refuse to donate money to an enterprise that is going to put up a boring metal structure. A different parents' group in town did this a few years ago -- raised money for a playground that was supposed to be designed for older kids. When it finally arrived, it was apparent that their idea of "older kids" was maybe five year olds. My kids went to the new playground (and they were about seven or eight at the time) and basically said, "That's it? What a rip off!"
Do you have resources that one could point the committee to say, "This is a good structure for kids older than seven?" Also, is there any reason why the really awesome wooden playgrounds don't get built anymore? They're always the best, but they seem to be a rapidly vanishing species. When the really great one in the center of our town came down (mostly due to paranoid parents calling it dangerous because kids occasionally got splinters) my kids basically stopped going to playgrounds because there is nothing to do there -- "the structures are for babies!"
I really want to fight this trend. What can I do?
Do you have advice for Bridget?
Photo by theloushe (cc).
When kids must teach adults the difference between a rational and irrational decision, you have to stop and wonder what’s going on.
In St. Catharines, Canada, 10-year-old Mathew Taylor (pictured left) stepped up to reverse his school’s decision to ban all balls—basketballs excluded—on the schoolyard during recess. The ban was imposed after one child got hit in the head by a soccer ball, even though according to Mathew, “she was back in class shortly after the incident.”
After “some boring recesses,” Mathew decided to take action. He collected 95 signatures for a petition, researched childhood obesity data online, and met with the school principal. His impressive and persuasive efforts led her to reverse course and once again allow soccer balls, footballs, and tennis balls on the school field.
It’s heartwarming to see Play Heroes like Mathew stepping in to save play. He instinctively understood that the decision to implement the ban was driven by paranoia and did not serve the best interests of his schoolmates.
But the fact that 10-year-olds are teaching school administrators about common sense is worrisome—to say the least. Would we rather see kids running around during recess, refining their gross motor skills, learning about teamwork, and incrementally challenging themselves? Or would we rather see them sitting around?
Knee-jerk reactions to relatively minor injuries on the schoolyard may or may not stave off lawsuits, but at what cost?
A tree house in Fairfax, Va. may soon meet an untimely demise. That is, if the Fairfax County zoning board gets its way.
When he left for Iraq, Mark Grapin, an Army aviation specialist, promised his two sons he would build them a tree house when he got home. He wanted to give them a special hideaway, the kind that he had growing up, when according to The Washington Post, he and his friends “built a tree house using bent nails, apple crates and whatever else they could scavenge.”
In this day and age, Grapin knew his childhood tree house would be a lawsuit waiting to happen. So when he returned from Iraq, he invested $1,400 to build a sturdy structure and made sure to contact the county to ask if he needed any special permits. He was assured he did not. It was only after he built the thing that the county board of zoning enforcement told him he had to take it down.
Why? Because Grapin owns a corner lot, and his backyard is actually considered a front yard, meaning he has to follow the zoning code. Merni Fitzgerald, a spokeswoman for the county, told The Washington Post, “It’s no different from a shed or a garage or any structure.”
Well, except that it’s a tree house. It’s one of the coolest things a kid could ask for, inviting hours of imaginative outdoor play not only for Grapin’s sons but for their friends in the broader community. To destroy it over a zoning technicality sends the message that we care more about rules and regulations—whether or not they make sense—than we do about the health of our children.
Grapin appealed the zoning board’s initial ruling and on Nov. 30, he has one last opportunity to plead his case. Let’s join forces to tell the Fairfax County Zoning Board to let the tree house stay!
Photo credit: Mark Grapin, The Washington Post.
Watch out, parents: Just when you thought your children were safe, balloons and party whistles are now officially out to choke them, and teddy bears are plotting to infect them with deadly diseases.
At least that’s what the EU toy safety directive claims. Under its new guidelines, children under the age of eight who live in the European Union can no longer be trusted to blow up balloons without an adult by their side. They must wait an additional six years before they can blow a party whistle all by themselves.
And we know that non-machine washable teddy bear looks innocent, but don’t let him fool you. His cuddly fur is only a ploy to spread germs to children under the age of three.
Where are these poor children's parents? Do they realize their kids are in imminent danger?!
If we want to know why parents are getting more paranoid—and why children are taking fewer risks—we need look no further than guidelines like these. Extremely unlikely events, like choking on a balloon, turn into dire threats that children must be protected from at all costs.
According to CBS News, between 1990 and 2004, approximately 68 kids died in the United States from choking on latex balloons. While each of these deaths is unquestionably tragic, that’s fewer than five kids per year in a country that boasts 74 million people under the age of 18.
Frank Furedi, professor of sociology at the University of Kent, echoed our sentiments exactly when he told The Telegraph, "These bans diminish the experience, both of having fun and learning, by turning play into a danger zone with rules that stifle life and adventure for children."
We don’t need any more bans based on extremely improbable threats. We need to back off and let our children play.
We are gathered here today to mourn the premature passing of Narelle Street tree house in North Bondi, Australia. For eight precious years, the tree house offered children their own leafy haven, refusing entrance to grown-ups “at any time.” On its well-worn wooden platform, children shared secrets, explored the natural world, and delegated responsibilities as kings and queens of the forest.
The Waverly Council deemed the Narelle Street tree house a danger to children, not because it had hurt anyone, but because it failed to meet “council standards.” Parents in the community heroically stepped up to rescue it from imminent demolition. Alas, their efforts were in vain. The tree house fell victim to the over-regulation and worst-first thinking that has plagued so many other play structures before it. It met its early demise in the name of children’s safety, and yet we must ask ourselves if its absence will only hurt children more.
Friends and fellow play advocates, please join us in paying tribute to the beloved Narelle Street Tree House as we grieve its premature passing.
Pay your respects at our other virtual funerals.
We are gathered here today to mourn the loss of Cabell County’s much beloved swing sets. They will be dearly missed. Year after year, these swing sets have exhilarated the children of southern West Virgina while promoting their perceptual skills, spatial awareness, general fitness, social interaction, and sensory integration.
Cabell County’s swings never meant to harm anyone. It is true that children sometimes liked to jump off them, thinking they were Superman, and that one such child broke his arm, perhaps due in part to inadequate safety surfacing. Yet we cannot help but lament the tragic decision made by this youngster’s parents to file a lawsuit, thus depriving all Cabell County youngsters of the chance to develop crucial skills, not to mention the chance to touch the sky with their toes.
Friends and fellow play advocates, please join us in paying tribute to Cabell County's swing sets as we grieve their premature passing.
UPDATE: Cabell County's swings may rise from the dead! The removal was halted by the state because of a state law that requires elementary schools to have swing sets. However, the swing seats and chains are being stored elsewhere until the district is able to address safety surfacing issues. Here's hoping they will be resuscitated soon.