The average modern day playground is a terrible place.
It is where imaginations go to die. It is where children go to act naughty and get hurt. I don’t want to come across as an old codger, but playgrounds were much better when I was a kid. The crappy play structures they are trying to pass off as playgrounds nowadays just don’t cut it.
When I was growing up, playgrounds were amazing.
In our small town, all the adults came together to build the best playground ever. Sure, it was mostly made out of old tires and pressure-treated wood, but a lot of heart went into that magical place and I spent countless hours there playing imaginary games with my friends. It was set up on a hill inside these pine trees that kept it cool and made the whole place feel like a secret kingdom.
A couple years ago this beautiful park was completely torn down in the name of safety. Gone is the web made out of tires. The one that people could makes swing back and forth so hard you almost fell out, and you almost died–of laughter. Gone is the giant boat made of tires and pressure treated wood. You could hide inside of it, Spiderman-climb the outside, or try to balance along the top until you fell off. They even destroyed the dinosaur made of out cut up tires. What did that dinosaur ever to do to deserve such a fate? I spent the entire summer of my ninth year of life sitting up on that dinosaur’s shoulders, peeling the paint off of his head and telling myself stories. I’m really not exaggerating how great all of this used to be. If anything I am probably not telling you enough about how this was the best playground ever.
Last summer, I brought my little boy to the old park on the hill. I couldn’t wait to show him the big castle and the boat. I knew he would love every part of it. I pictured going down the giant slide with him on my lap and us falling into a giggling heap at the bottom.
When we climbed up to the top of the hill, everything was gone.
Even the trees were gone. Why did they have to cut down all the trees?
Where there had once stood a magical oasis, now looked strangely like a desert. In middle sat the most boring play structure I’ve ever seen. If you don’t believe me just check out the picture of it located at up at the top of this post. Cue the lonely whistling sound that happens in old Western movies when the scene cuts to a ghost town. It would have probably been better to leave the whole place empty than to suggest that a playground might still exist. Sure, I think all play structures are pretty crappy but this one is the crappiest, most pitiful piece of equipment I have ever seen.
If I hadn’t been so angry, I would have cried.
The scorched earth approach to remodeling playgrounds is an epidemic.
We are taking all the imagination out of playgrounds in the name of safety.
Yes, tires are toxic. Yes, pressure treated wood leaves nasty splinters. But these sainted play structures are not so wonderful either. Being on recess duty at elementary schools for seven years, I have seen numerous broken bones and noticed that basically the only thing kids want to do on a play structure is play some version or another of a tag game. Tag at ten feet in the air is not safe. It is terrifying.
Then, last week I took my two and a half year old, Wolfy, to a birthday party at the school playground and he got stuck at the very top of tallest slide. As all the other children sang happy birthday and began to stuff their faces with cake, my little boy sat and sat and sat frozen at the top of the slide because he was too scared to come down by himself.
I know what you’re thinking: why didn’t I just go up and get him? I didn’t go up there because some real geniuses designed this particular play structure in such a way that it’s almost impossible for the average adult to get to the top of the tallest slide. My choices for getting to Wolfy were to shimmy up a tiny tube, climb a twisty ladder, or maneuver up this weird piece of twisted metal. Thank you playground developers!
There Wolfy sat, sixteen or so feet up in the air in while I used all the coaxing, cajoling, and threatening that I could muster. At one point he even started to cry. Finally I convinced him to come down to a place where I could almost reach up to him, and he jumped into my airs in an act of faith that I will never forget.
I’m calling bullshit on modern day playgrounds.
And don’t even get me started on those terrible places on these structures where the railing suddenly drops away to reveal a place for a child to climb up an impossibly tall ladder or slide down a fireman’s pole. Whenever my little boy stands in one of these terribly dangerous places, all I can do is visualize him falling, over and over again. Older kids run by and I think, it would only take just one small push… Would I be able to catch him? How much trauma would he sustain?
In my personal version of hell, I am stuck standing on some overgrown mulch while my little boy towers above me leaning precariously off a platform. In this nightmare, I can’t move and he has no idea of the danger mere inches from him. And in moments like these, I wonder are these new, fancy playgrounds really so much better? Are they really worth the expensive price tag? Are they really so much safer?