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Children's Playgrounds: On the Endangered List?

In a quiet corner of our city sits a gem, a historic park designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, complete with duck pond and an tall, metal roller slide that’s irresistible to kids. When we showed up to play for the first time this spring, the roller slide was gone.  Its removal has parents buzzing — about half are glad they won’t have to drag their kids away from it anymore, the other half are really sad to see it go.

By today’s standards, it really wasn’t risk-free.  But as Lenore Skenazy points out in her her Salon piece The War on Children’s Playgrounds, nothing is.  But in our effort to make playgrounds as safe as humanely possible, Skenazy says that we’re also eliminating the fun.

Skenazy writes:

For the past 40 years or so, we have certainly been working to make our playgrounds safer than safe — maybe even safer than fun. Seen an old merry-go-round lately? Or a swinging gate? How about a seesaw — the kind without springs, where, when your so-called friend suddenly plopped you down, you felt it?

Didn’t think so. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued reams of playground regulations and actually gone so far as to recommend against “tripping hazards, like tree stumps and rocks.” Maybe we should just bulldoze the local parks and put in a couple of blobs — this time, made of plastic.

Skenazy’s piece reminds me of an article I read a few years ago in Wondertime about a study that found that today’s playgrounds with their pillar and step format actually slow children’s development of certain skills like climbing and jumping. Sadly, I can’t seem to find a link to it, because the Internet is clogged with studies about the numerous dangers found on a playground. Which is exactly Skenazy’s point:

Because we have a culture that is constantly telling us that no risk is tolerable. This month’s issue of Parenting lists “4 Easy-to-Avoid Playground Hazards” — as if the playground is teeming with doom. Tip No. 3: “The National Program for Playground Safety doesn’t recommend spiraling, twisty slides for kids under 5. If yours can’t resist a souped-up slide, stay close by as she goes down, or slide on it with her.”

Guess what? That’s what a 63-year-old did in the wooden Voorhees park before insurers insisted it be torn down. She hurt her ankle and is suing for $2.5 million.

In fact, in an effort to reduce the risk of injury, schools and parks have gone so far as to ban running. Sounds absurd, but not absurd enough not to be true.

I’m really said to see our big metal roller slide go, but what concerns me are the playground pieces that are left. Impossibly tall swings that go so high they make my kids feel like they’re flying, and a tall silver slide that’s — gasp — over 6 feet tall. Remove those, and there won’t be much else to do but throw some cracker crumbs at the ducks.

Have you seen playground safety regulations ruin your favorite playing spot, or are you in favor of the new, more stringent rules?

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