When it comes to our children, safety is not child’s play.
We want kids to be kids. Outdoor playtime helps them become healthy, active, and sociable beings. But accidents happen, even in places they are supposed to be safe and should be having fun while playing. It’s been said so many times before, but public and private playground statistics show that over 200,000 kids end up in emergency rooms for playground-related injuries and accidents. Thankfully, we’ve seen how playgrounds have evolved from being danger zones to the safer recreation areas they are today.
The dangerous playgrounds of the 1900s: what’s wrong with this picture?
The photo above shows a girls’ playground in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1905. The girls’ ages range from pre-school (around three years old, judging from their height) to school age (five through twelve years old). However, the girls look like they are all waiting to take turns on the climbing poles and overhead rings regardless of their age. The surface that they are standing on appear to be either made of hard packed dirt or concrete. And they are wearing belts, ribbons, stockings, hats, and other items of clothing that can get caught on protruding parts or entangled on the equipment!
The article credits the Library of Congress for the photos, which are compelling to look at, while conveying a sense of dread at the same time. In the photo above, eight young children (described in the original article as Czech-American kids in 1942) play on a structure of “monkey bars” that features protruding steel bars, an uncovered concrete surface, and the kids themselves wearing clothing that could get snagged on the poles and other parts.
In the article itself, there is mention of some researchers questioning the “value of safety-first playgrounds”. Apparently, some critics think that a broken bone is generally more acceptable than the kind of stunted emotional development that a fear of heights (which none of the kids featured in the black and white photos above display) potentially proffers!
It even quotes Queen Maud University (Norway) professor of psychology Ellen Sandseter as saying: “Children need to encounter risks and overcome fears on the playground. I think monkey bars and tall slides are great. As playgrounds become more and more boring, these are some of the few features that still can give children thrilling experiences with heights and high speed.”
Boring versus safe: which would you go for as a parent?
There is an important reason why playground and public parks regulation have evolved. Boredom and the potential for being “wimpy kids”, unfortunately, are not some of those reasons. Modern standards in playground safety are results of careful studies and statistics, plus numerous testings on products and equipment for kids. The iron pole and bare concrete playgrounds of the past have given way to the age-appropriate, thoughtfully and creatively designed playgrounds of today. Yes, the very same ones that your kids are enjoying on a regular basis, which they don’t seem to find boring or “emotionally stunting”, as the original article posits!
Why rubber mulch is the safe choice for your child’s playground
We have certainly come a long way from those days of dangerous playground conditions. Today, we have regulations that take into account our children’s age, the height and width and depth of playground equipment, appropriate clothing for playing, playground maintenance and supervision, and of course, proper playground surfacing.