Where did you play when you were a kid?
I’ve been staying with my son, daughter-in-law and their two daughters for about a week now. They live in a community that is primarily military families, and right in the center of the neighborhood is a big playground.
It sits on a cushy bark chip surface and has things you’d see in any other suburban playground. And it’s a great place for the kids to get together and play while the parents chat and get to know each other.
But it has its limits.
While it is a fun place to met up with other children and have social interaction, and play time, it isn’t a place to get an education. What I mean by that is, these types of playgrounds do not give children the opportunity to experiment, explore, to try things out and practice critical thinking and problem solving.
When I was young we had a swing set in our back yard, which we rarely used. Instead we were doing things like digging in the dirt, making things from discarded cans and nails and rope or whatever we could get our hands on.
There was a hill right next to our farm called Star Hill. It got its name from the pine trees that were planted in the shape of a big star. It was a steep hill and became our favorite sledding hill once the snow hit. Except my parents didn’t buy us sleds, so we had to get creative.
My brother Steve figured out if we took the trunk off an old car we had and tied a rope to it, all of us could fly down that hill together narrowly missing trees on the way. Which we did. Talk about un-safe! But we had a blast and figured out how to conquer that hill.
When my boys were young they much preferred exploring around our farm and especially liked the rickety tree fort that had old wood and rusty nails showing. The first thing they wanted was a hammer, some rope and a pulley. I could see their wheels were turning and the big plans they had for that fort.
But today a lot, if not most, kids are shielded from those kinds of experiences.
“You’re going to get hurt”, “It’s not safe”, “You can’t use a hammer!” “Here, let me show you how to do it”.
I hear those words over and over from young parents today.
Don’t get me wrong I am NOT blaming the parents. In our society, you can get thrown in jail for letting your 10 year old walk three blocks to a playground. So I completely understand the need to watch over them. I think we even started calling today’s parents “Hover Parents” for doing this. Kind of a damned if you do, damned if you don’t sort of thing.
I’m proud of my kids for allowing their children to get dirty and figure out things on their own. When we were carving pumpkins, my son reminded me that it was okay for his 6 year old to use the little serrated knife that came in the kit and try her best to carve out her design.
And it was fun to see them play in the mud yesterday finding a board that they’d decided was a boat to play with.
When I spoke with my daughter-in-law about this, she told me about a fairly new concept for us here in the United States.
Junkyard playgrounds. Have you heard of them?
They sprung up in Europe after the war because children where playing in bombed out buildings, and liking it. Major cities all over the world have slowly been adapting this type of free play space for children and creating Wild Playgrounds and Adventure Playgrounds. Children are allowed to play with hammers and paint and climb on things, without adult interference.
I think it is a wonderful idea, and I’m glad to see it’s starting to catch on.