Newsletter Subscription

Regular Updates on Parenting, Happy Children & Emotional Intelligence

  • Latest Articles - Raising Children with Emotional Intelligence
  • New Parenting Blogs
  • Parenting Tips for Happy Children
  • Free Online Seminars
  • Popular Parenting Books & Reviews

Subscribe!

Regular Updates on Parenting, Happy Children & Emotional Intelligence

  • Latest Articles - Raising Children with Emotional Intelligence
  • New Parenting Blogs
  • Parenting Tips for Happy Children
  • Free Online Seminars
  • Popular Parenting Books & Reviews

CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Image CAPTCHA
Enter the characters shown in the image.
Unsubscribe

Proudly Supporting

Proudly Supporting

Playground Safety and Design - Taking the Heat off Parents?

“I think it’s bad for children to have their parents flapping around when they’re in the playground, saying ‘Don’t go there - don’t do that - don’t climb this’ … it makes children more anxious and less confident,” says Seana Smith, Sydney mum of four school-aged children. Seana grew up in the Scottish countryside where she and her three siblings played in the fields, up on hay bales and by the river. “Nobody drowned or broke a limb,” she says, “and we played on a very tall slide and a very fast roundabout shaped like a witch’s hat, without our parents.”  Although Seana is more vigilant than her own parents were, she allows her children a taste of some of that freedom – for example, unsupervised play in the bush near their house. But like many Generation X parents, Seana still prefers her children to take a mobile phone with them into their bush lair.

Are safe playgrounds depriving our children of important emotional development opportunities? By making playgrounds safer and reducing physical risk, are we increasing the risk that children will be more anxious and deprived of chances to master their physical world? The value of a safety-first playground was recently questioned in the New York Times - “Can a Playground be Too Safe?”. The writer referred to comments by Norwegian psychologist, Professor Ellen Sandseter who said that it is best for children to encounter certain physical challenges from an early age so that they learn to master them through play. Professor Sandseter and her colleagues suggest that by eliminating as many physical risks as possible during the increasingly limited time that children play outdoors, we may be raising more fearful children “with increased levels of psychopathology” - and safer playgrounds may be reducing chances for children to experiment with and conquer their fears.

In its Child Safety Handbook, the Playground & Recreation Association of Victoria notes that the most common unintentional injuries for school aged children – dislocations, sprains and fractures - are linked with falls. And there is credible research on the link between allowing children to take risk and developing their competence, confidence and ability to assess risk themselves. But are risk management and emotional development during children’s outdoor play dependent on the safety of the design of playground equipment? Perhaps when it comes to children’s play, risk is also related to parents’ attitudes, fears and expectations. And apart from risk, should parents also be thinking about how their children use playgrounds? Most parents will agree that 21st century children’s playgrounds in Australia are more colourful, detailed and thoughtfully designed than the 1960s and 1970s playgrounds they played in themselves. But those same parents also had freer reign of local areas and were allowed to roam further with far less supervision, and no mobile ‘phones.

Retired Preschool Director and grandparent Helen Leatherdale points out another important consideration:  “I hate some playgrounds. Not because they’re dangerous, but because some of them are totally unimaginative. Our kids used to play a lot on flat surfaces with just some equipment, and this allowed children to use their imagination. But now for example, you might see a child on a pirate ship in a playground and he’s just standing there and turning the wheel instead of making his own ship and really imagining he’s a pirate.” Helen has plenty of experience watching children play during many years as a preschool teacher, mother and now as a grandmother, and she welcomes improvements in the safety of playground equipment. “I do think it’s a good thing to have these improvements. Some equipment was very dangerous. But parents need to realise that any equipment used dangerously will still put a child in danger. It all comes down to how parents supervise.”

And on the issue of supervision, Seana Smith agrees. Having spent time researching playgrounds for her book Sydney for Under Fives, Seana says there are still plenty available for adventurous children. Seana recommends Putney Park with its water play area and exciting, tall rope-climbing structure, Sydney Park with slides and wobbly bridges and Parramatta Pool with its adventurous water slides.

Seana also says it’s not the playground design that’s always the real issue - parental supervision and involvement in a children’s playground also makes a difference: “It’s the parents’ attitude towards life. Even in a safety-first playground a child can stretch himself and it’s up to the parent to let a child extend himself when he’s ready. Sometimes parents sit around too much at the beginning of a park visit instead of starting the child off on the equipment and understanding where their child is developmentally. Parents need to know what their child is capable of next, and allow him to do it. I also want to sit in a park and have a coffee, but first I think it’s good to get kids started on the equipment.”

It’s a phenomenon of modern parenting – we expect children’s playground equipment to meet the latest safety standards and allow us to peacefully sip our takeaway cappuccinos, safe in the knowledge that our children are protected by cutting edge playground design and the local council’s liability insurance.  But to make sure children are not deprived of the benefits of challenging and interesting outdoor play, parents can take an active interest and involvement in where their children play and allow them to extend their play in age appropriate ways. Choosing a new park that extends your child’s previous experiences with height, speed or challenge is one way of doing this – but parents can also offer their children activities like indoor rock climbing, ice skating or allow them to climb local trees.

The local playground may have become safer, but rocks by the beach, trees in the yard and walks in the Australian bush are still available for parents and kids. It’s a paradox that by highlighting the ’emotional development’ downside of safe play equipment, commentators and experts are also subtly shifting one aspect of parenting to the ‘authorities’ –  are our local Councils now expected to make playground equipment dangerous, or ignore the best safety design advice in order to take the pressure off parents too busy to provide challenging play or recreational activities for their children? Focusing on the risk levels of playground equipment ignores the obvious: parents are still capable of giving their children all the risk taking, imaginative and emotional development opportunities they crave, simply by getting involved.