As I read the article The Overprotected Kid in The Atlantic Monthly, I couldn’t help but think of the joke:
What do you call 500 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean?
A good start.
Have we let our litigious society stop us just short of bubble wrapping our kids to the extent that we have taken the very joy out of childhood? Five-year old Kyle said to his Nana, “I’m never allowed to play outside with my friends.”
They know they are always being watched. Each generation of parents wants their children to have a better life. Unfortunately when it comes to play, we are the ones standing in the way. This video demonstrates that.
In 1994 I joined others in my community to build what is called a creative playground. The event is similar to an old fashioned barn-raising. The school children were asked to make sketches of what they would like in a playground, and the drawings were turned over to architects. Parents and local businesses raised money for materials which lead to a five day playground build. It is still to this day one of the most awesome experiences I ever had. The playground was fun and popular for many years.
But as I read this article, I realize the playground was sterile. Missing was adventure and the ability for children to imagine and reinvent fun. The only playgrounds they knew were out of the box yet we expected them to think out of the box – not possible!
Children are supposed to move and play and learn and honestly express themselves. Some time ago, I interviewed Dr. Vicki Panaccione on the topic dealing with anger. She suggests that we have a lot of angry children because they aren’t allowed to be little children. We are in control of everything they do. On the one hand we say kids grow up to fast, but on the other hand they don’t get the space and freedom to grow up at all.
Here is an excerpt from the Atlantic Monthly article. I encourage you to read it and hope it inspires you to make change in your own community. It might be a change as simple as starting with “playworkers” which the article references, and I first learned about from the International Association of the Child’s Right to Play. This concept is brilliant because playworkers are professionally trained to keep a close eye on kids in public parks but don’t intervene all that much.
To see the full article, visit The Overprotected Kid in The Atlantic Monthly:
The Land is an “adventure playground,” although that term is maybe a little too reminiscent of theme parks to capture the vibe. In the U.K., such playgrounds arose and became popular in the 1940s, as a result of the efforts of Lady Marjory Allen of Hurtwood, a landscape architect and children’s advocate. Allen was disappointed by what she described in a documentary as “asphalt square” playgrounds with “a few pieces of mechanical equipment.” She wanted to design playgrounds with loose parts that kids could move around and manipulate, to create their own makeshift structures. But more important, she wanted to encourage a “free and permissive atmosphere” with as little adult supervision as possible. The idea was that kids should face what to them seem like “really dangerous risks” and then conquer them alone. That, she said, is what builds self-confidence and courage.
The playgrounds were novel, but they were in tune with the cultural expectations of London in the aftermath of World War II. Children who might grow up to fight wars were not shielded from danger; they were expected to meet it with assertiveness and even bravado. Today, these playgrounds are so out of sync with affluent and middle-class parenting norms that when I showed fellow parents back home a video of kids crouched in the dark lighting fires, the most common sentence I heard from them was “This is insane.” (Working-class parents hold at least some of the same ideals, but are generally less controlling—out of necessity, and maybe greater respect for toughness.) That might explain why there are so few adventure playgrounds left around the world, and why a newly established one, such as the Land, feels like an act of defiance.
If a 10-year-old lit a fire at an American playground, someone would call the police and the kid would be taken for counseling. At the Land, spontaneous fires are a frequent occurrence. The park is staffed by professionally trained “playworkers,” who keep a close eye on the kids but don’t intervene all that much. Claire Griffiths, the manager of the Land, describes her job as “loitering with intent.” Although the playworkers almost never stop the kids from what they’re doing, before the playground had even opened they’d filled binders with “risk benefits assessments” for nearly every activity. (In the two years since it opened, no one has been injured outside of the occasional scraped knee.) Here’s the list of benefits for fire: “It can be a social experience to sit around with friends, make friends, to sing songs to dance around, to stare at, it can be a co-operative experience where everyone has jobs. It can be something to experiment with, to take risks, to test its properties, its heat, its power, to re-live our evolutionary past.” The risks? “Burns from fire or fire pit” and “children accidentally burning each other with flaming cardboard or wood.” In this case, the benefits win, because a playworker is always nearby, watching for impending accidents but otherwise letting the children figure out lessons about fire on their own.
Let’s make it wonderful to be a kid again.
“If you want creative workers, give them enough time to play”
― John Cleese
Have a great week!
Tina Nocera, Founder