One of my fondest childhood memories is of the hours I spent at the playground in the park near my New Jersey home in the 1950s. Two ancient swing sets stood in the shade of mature trees, their massive wooden seats fastened to the crossbar not by chains, but by rigid iron bars with hooks on both ends. They let out a satisfying metallic screech as each arcing motion reached its zenith.
The mountainous silver-surfaced slide had a huge bump about halfway down, which made us kids scream with delight—except when the hot summer sun shone directly on it, and you burned your bottom. Sometimes the slide was “slow,” and you’d stick to it. An enterprising child would run home for a sheet of waxed paper and wax the slide by riding down it a few times while sitting on the waxed paper.
There were seesaws, too—wooden planks that teetered on a horizontal pipe. I didn’t like them—if your partner suddenly jumped off, your end of the board came down hard on the ground.
With the simplest equipment, we kids were able to have lots of fun. However, I am blown away by the imaginative playgrounds built today.
To my way of thinking, these beautiful playgrounds could only enhance imaginative play.
But the truth is, many of today’s children spend more time in virtual play than on an actual physical playground. Does it matter?
In the United States, elementary schools are pressured to devote more time to instruction in order for children to perform better on standardized tests. In that high-stakes environment, recess and physical education look like wasted time. But are they? Evidence suggests that students who have ample opportunity to move and play actually concentrate better and learn more with less effort because their brains and bodies are refreshed.
Playgrounds need not be expensive propositions. It’s possible to build beautiful play structures out of inexpensive, easily obtainable materials assembled by volunteers.
For more information on play and to see more examples of well-designed playgrounds, visit these websites:
In the olden days, many parents were with their children much of the day. Many parents worked in the home, some came home for the lunch hour. In a simpler time, children went off to play in the neighborhood with their friends.
Today’s parents have complex occupational requirements that prevent them from spending the day with their kids, and they may not be comfortable with them being outside and out of sight. Certainly, we are aware of the danger of children not being supervised. Yet, in those precious off-work hours parents might not have the time or energy for a trip to the playground.
What do you think? Do you like the play spaces in this article? Are modern playgrounds a waste or a necessity? How do we balance children’s outside play with their safety? Share your thoughts in the comments below.