Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Pondering Playgrounds

Mrs. Tate, my second grade teacher of blue-grey bee hive often called me by another girl's name. Now that I'm a teacher, I see how that happens. My second grade self sort of smiled when she called me Jennifer Saxe. We both had blonde hair and and generic second grade shapes: gangly arms and legs. Jennifer was a risk taker on the playground. One moment stands in my mind. She had climbed to the top of the monkey bars. These elementary school bars were not a tower affair, instead our monkey bars were a  straight forward line, climb up the ladder, hang on for dear life and see if you can hand-over-hand get across what seemed like 50 yards to my 7 year-old-self. Jennifer decided to climb on TOP of the bars and walk across. Risky! We watched, or at least I did. She fell, slipped, about a third of the way across. After landing her hand at an awkward angle in relation to her arm. She broke her wrist.

To us, it's amazing to happen upon a playground every few blocks. Collin's favorite so far is the Ancient Playground. It satisfied his climb-the-walls drive; he could literally run right up the pyramid wall and the number of "want to watch me..." calls I got tell me he was tickled with himself. Jen mentioned a recent article from the NY Times about how over safe playgrounds may interefere with childrens' emotional development. We learn to first take risks on the playground, after all. When we got home, I searched the for the piece and found it here: Can a Playground Be Too Safe?

Climbing the Walls
In the article John Tierney highlights how playground landscapes have changed as a result of litigation fears and safety concerns. Are we too safety concious? Sure sometimes. As Collin played my only caution to him was to remember that a broken bone or injury might put a damper on his next few weeks of vacation. You can't swim the Hawaiian surf with a cast on your arm, right? The Ancient Playground sports a rubberized floor and though the climbing spaces are many and varied, none topped ten feet, but even with those boundaries, Collin took risks. He dashed, darted, climbed, jumped, ran and lept his way through the space. I wonder what he was thinking?

Cupcake smiles after Magnolia Bakery
with @JenAnsbach, Collin and Noah.
My friend Jen said she had students in her high school English classrooms that were afraid to go away to college. We wondered together how taking fewer playground risks would play out through high school, something the experts in the Tierney article touch on. One of her students got a full ride to a NJIT (New Jersey's version of MIT or GA Tech), but decided to turn down the scholarship citing being afraid to leave home. Of course kids are afraid to leave home! I was too. But it's one of those "you have to do it" risks that in hindsight you appreciate for the transformative experience it was.

We're still 8 years from college, but I can see how encouraging risk (risk at the playground, risk at the dinner table, etc) builds character. We'll be stopping in at more playgrounds this morning and who knows, I may just climb and walk the Park wall myself.

1 comment:

  1. "risk at the dinner table"? Would that involve Papa's watchful eye for "eating with fingers":-)
    By your smile Collin I know you are having a great time!

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