Are Playgrounds Too Safe?

MC-Park---Play-Area-2Being a parent of 3 boys that love playgrounds, the topic of a recent article in the NY Times caught my attention.  Are playgrounds now a day’s really being made too safe? Are kids not experiencing enough adventure and excitement that playgrounds “back in the day” offered and is the result that children are discouraged from healthy exercise because they aren’t being challenged?

This article is saying that playgrounds are being built lower, slower and well, more boring, with the intention of reducing the risk of injury.  The article contends,  “The old tall jungle gyms and slides disappeared from most American playgrounds across the country in recent decades because of parental concerns, federal guidelines, new safety standards set by manufacturers and – the most frequently cited factor – fear of lawsuits.”   But I do not agree that it is producing unintended consequences, causing children to take fewer risks or miss out on opportunities to overcome fears such as heights. I’ve seen plenty of playgrounds with climbing walls that are quite tough and high, my kids easily get butterflies in their stomachs and still need encouragement to get to the top and not be afraid.

MC-Park---Play-Area-1Children probably get hurt far less now than 20 or 30 years ago when they built 10ft high jungle gyms, but I believe that is attributed to the ingenuity of playground engineers and architects simply creating safer equipment without sacrificing the high speed thrills of a fast slides or spinning merry-go-rounds. To say that playgrounds no longer offer thrills is ridiculous! Sure they are safer and I absolutely love the rubber mulch and soft surfaces, but they are in no way discouraging my kids to take fewer risks. In fact, the newest park we’ve visited has had some of the most ingenious structures I’ve ever seen that encourage kids to climb, spin and swing on equipment that requires way more physical exertion and intuitive thinking than I ever experienced growing up.   And don’t forget, kids will be kids, they will climb all over the more simple structures in ways the designers never intended to get their thrills, I’ve kissed many bruises that can attest to that!

You can read the full article here.

What are your thoughts…are we designers playing it too safe when it comes to playgrounds?

3 Comments

  1. I agree with you. My two year old can hurt herself walking too close to a wall, so I’m ok with safer playgrounds over all. We went to a restaurant playland the other day and they had it set up so shorter (younger) kids couldn’t reach the tallest spiral slides unless they could climb a certain height into the entrance. I thought that was genius until my kid crawled up the spiral slide itself…another little boy had to help her down.

  2. I don’t have kids, so I can’t speak from a parents’ perspective….I am sure there is a strong desire to protect from every bruise and bump:-) But I am going to play devils advocate and say that yes, playgrounds can be too safe. In fact I distinctly remember being bored on “safe” playgrounds when I was little. I think there is something to be said for allowing kids to test boundaries and experience real adventure while at play. Afterall, they are headed out into a world with real consequences. It might be valuable for them to learn how to be careful and take care of themselves within the context of a playground.

  3. That’s an interesting viewpoint Bailey. I can’t recall ever being bored on a playground though, and definitely my kids are never bored, even if there is only 1 slide and a swing.

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