© 2015 By Bob Litton (except for quotations and photo above). All Rights Reserved. Yesterday, while driving past the only elementary school in this small town where I live, I glanced over at the fenced-in playground where children, in scattered groups, were talking, tugging each other, maybe bullying, and playing on and in a large plastic “gym”. I continued on home, wondering whatever happened to the swings, the seesaws, the slides and the merry-go-rounds that had dotted the school ground in Dallas where I and my classmates had played. Of course I knew the answer: later in the 20th century they had been judged to be too risky, even dangerous.
A statistical report published by the Center for Disease Control, last updated in March 2012, began with the following:
Each year in the United States, emergency departments treat more than 200,000 children ages 14 and younger for playground-related injuries (Tinsworth 2001).
Occurrence and Consequences
About 45% of playground-related injuries are severe–fractures, internal injuries, concussions, dislocations, and amputations (Tinsworth 2001). About 75% of nonfatal injuries related to playground equipment occur on public playgrounds (Tinsworth 2001). Most occur at schools and daycare centers (Phelan 2001). Between 1990 and 2000, 147 children ages 14 and younger died from playground-related injuries. Of them, 82 (56%) died from strangulation and 31 (20%) died from falls to the playground surface. Most of these deaths (70%) occurred on home playgrounds (Tinsworth 2001).
In 1995, playground-related injuries among children ages 14 and younger cost an estimated $1.2 billion (Office of Technology Assessment 1995).
Wow! It’s hard to argue against those numbers. Nevertheless, I intend to do so.
This morning I heard on the National Public Radio program “Wait, Wait…Don’t tell me” the brief mention of a study by Cardiff University in Wales which reported that injuries from playground fights among children have dropped precipitously. The reason: children were spending most of their time inside watching TV and playing video games. Now, to me, that is just as much if not more dangerous than a kid getting his butt scorched on a hot slide or her arm broken from falling out of a swing.
While searching the Web for the Cardiff U. report, I came upon an article written by Sarah Boesveld for New Zealand’s National Post. Ms. Boesveld’s report is about how Swanson School’s Principal Bruce McLachlan decided the era of “political correctness” was harming children’s development:
It had been mere months since the gregarious principal threw out the rulebook on the playground of concrete and mud, dotted with tall trees and hidden corners; just weeks since he had stopped reprimanding students who whipped around on their scooters or wielded sticks in play sword fights. He knew children might get hurt, and that was exactly the point — perhaps if they were freed from the “cotton-wool” in which their 21st century parents had them swaddled, his students may develop some resilience, use their imaginations, solve problems on their own.
You can view the full article at: http://news.nationalpost.com/2014/03/21/when-one-new-zealand-school-tossed-its-playground-rules-and-let-students-risk-injury-the-results-surprised/ The results astonished even the principal. Not only did parents not attack him; they commended him for reintroducing risk into their children’s lives. Also, the children revealed their own untutored creativity by building their own playground—including a seesaw—out of wooden blocks, a long pipe and other construction debris. Moreover, when they returned from the playground they were more rested, cheerful and eager to learn.
Now, I do not think that revolutionary pedagogical mode is likely to be copied in the ludicrously litigious U.S. Damn near sure it won’t! But I feel that it should be. Sheesh!!! The modern playground is too boring to even look at, much less play in. I fondly remember the school playground of my own childhood and those at the parks as well. We had swings and seesaws and slides and merry-go-rounds. (Actually, I don’t miss the merry-go-rounds; they made me dizzy and I wondered what other children saw in them).
Also missing today are the non-playground games we used to enjoy. We boys would compete with marbles and with yard sticks imagined as swords; we would build forts out of discarded Christmas trees, and club houses out of old doors; with our BB guns we would venture into the woods on gameless hunting trips. The girls would play jacks and chalk-mark the sidewalks for their games of hopscotch, or dress in their mothers’ high heels and necklaces for fashion shows. On summer evenings we would all capture fireflies in mason jars with punctured lids. That is a lifestyle too precious to abandon.
How do you like to go up in a swing,
Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
Ever a child can do!
Up in the air and over the wall,
Till I can see so wide,
Rivers and trees and cattle and all
Over the countryside—
Till I look down on the garden green,
Down on the roof so brown—
Up in the air I go flying again,
Up in the air and down!
I still admire that poem.
Not many years ago I lamented not having even one child of my own. Now I sadly note my good fortune in being childless.
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