I think during a discussion here on HN, somebody posted a link to a study (or guidelines?) about safe playgrounds (I don't recall from which country).
IIRC the gist of the article was that playgrounds should always include risk elements because otherwise the children will use the playground against its design to find those risks (e.g. climb up on top of a structure which was designed that you play inside of it). The crucial element though was that risks should be calculatable and there should not be surprising dangerous outcomes.
I have to say looking at the playgrounds available to my kids here in Sweden, I'm pretty jealous of them, we didn't have such cool playgrounds available to us (or they were very rare). It is sometimes terrifying to watch as a parent, but look like great fun.
> IIRC the gist of the article was that playgrounds should always include risk elements because otherwise the children will use the playground against its design to find those risks
I have noticed exactly that again and again on playgrounds designed for very small children (<3). The older kids get bored and will just start to climb the playhouse roof, the swing, or the top of the tube slide.
Even 3-4 year old children will try to extend the play available by climbing up the slide in reverse, etc. I guess that's their version of climbing on the roof.
To keep the older kids interested, I try to find a way for them to play floor-is-lava and circumnavigate the equipment. Doesn't encourage the younger kids to climb beyond their limits but can still prove an interesting puzzle for the 5-10 year olds.
I feel like the type of playground design you're talking of started emerging in the late 00s, early 10s. It's great fun playing with my son in these, even as an adult! (Although my wife disapproves of me showing him some of the more dangerous things beyond the edge of his current envelope.)
They started in the 1980s, but it since most playgrounds are expected to last for many years they were a small minority of playgrounds until the time frame you name.
As a kid my parents knew a school principal - he retired around 1990, before he retired he was under pressure to upgrade the playground and he always refused because he went to other schools with upgraded playgrounds and watch kids not use all the expensive new stuff so he refused to waste money installing it. When he retired the school did a big fund raiser for modern equipment - and sure enough after installed kids didn't use it.
I honestly don't think it's the playground design, it's the parents.
There's a school near me with a nice large area great for skating around. Most of the equipment is the newer style plastic hunks with soft edges and a rubber mat surface on the ground.
Have seen kids there find all sorts of ways to nearly injury themselves. They're having fun like I used to as a kid. And we had the murder bars and fling-yourself-gorounds. Newer designs might only help prevent scraped knees and pinched fingers.
Now the kids with their helicopter parents look annoyed and miserable. The kid tries to run and gets yelled at to slow down. They get to excited and told to calm down. Parents will wait at the bottom of slides and catch kids before they have even reached the end.
You'll have nosy neighbors calling cops on kids because they're walking down street without parents.
We've created a fear bubble around kids and they don't know what danger is. Let them make mistakes! Let them explore their spacial surroundings and fall down!
The thing I don't get is how do these parents have the energy for that? I quickly discovered with my son that if I set the bar much higher than "will he die or lose a limb from this?" then I would be exhausted and done for the day by 10 AM.
I love him very much, but I just wouldn't be physically able to prevent every accident. Is there some sort of exercise regime or diet or other lifestyle change that gives you energy for that?
(Not that I necessarily want to change that, I'm just very curious.)
We have 4. The bar is a trip to the hospital. Urgent care facilities on the east coast usually won’t do pediatric stitches, and in my experience, a hospital visit for simple stitches or similar takes around 4-6 hours (I.e., 5.5 hours of waiting for 30 minutes of treatment). The absolute last thing I want to do is sit in a hospital with four kids for 6 hours, even if it’s free after insurance.
perhaps in the US, but wouldn't this equally have been the case historically?
the overall effect is almost certainly the result of the proprietors of playgrounds shielding themselves from lawsuits. I'd be willing to bet that around the time it started to change there was a big lawsuit, or a string of them that put the fear of god/bankruptcy into people running these things for the joy of others
> I honestly don't think it's the playground design, it's the parents.
Let's go one more step. It's not the parents, it's the society.
Parents don't live in a vacuum, and if you think back to your school days, the kids in your class were probably not writing essays on why they'll want to be watching over their future kids like crazy maniacs for a decade and more until they leave home.
There is another aspect though that my childhood playground looked not completely unlike the pictures but most kids didn't bother using anything. Most kids didn't want to climb on the monkey bars because it was boring after the first few times.
The playgrounds I see now while being safer look way more fun and the kids actually use them. There is one near me that while the ground is this almost foam padding the actual playground looks like something from American Ninja Warrior. No kid would pick a bunch of scrap metal over it if given the choice.
This whole thread reminds me of Danny Carvey's Grumpy Old Man character from old SNL. Back in my day the playground was 30 foot off the ground and if you fell off they had to amputate your leg.
> We've created a fear bubble around kids and they don't know what danger is
I believe they do know, and its far worse than the danger of a broken arm or sprained ankle. It's the danger of being shot dead. I urge everyone to read this article and imagine yourself as a child being told this stuff and "practicing" hiding and being quiet in an active shooter scenario. Far more terrifying than any playground from the past.
Which is ridiculous as kids being shot is extremely extremely low risk.
Slightly tricky to get the numbers here as most sources include colleges full of adults under "school shootings" and most school shooters shoot teachers rather than students, but it looks to be around 70 since the year 2000.
Which is such a small number that it should be completely irrelevant from a public policy and safety perspective. Heck the nuances of road signage law and hazardous chemical labelling are probably hundreds of times more important. The stress of worrying about it probably costs more life years than the shootings (which average at around one life hour per person).
I was in school after 9/11 when they started having terrorist drills and such. It's not like we sat in fear all day. We were kids. We weighed it the same as the fire drill or the tornado drill. Even seeing 9/11 on TV and being of age to vividly remember it and understand what it meant didn't seem to do much of anything 20 years down the line now in terms of traumas in my generation. At least kids aren't being forced to die in a far away war when they turn 18 anymore like they were in my fathers generation and in his fathers generation.
It's pretty insidious. Kids getting shot at school is rare, so it's reported on. Kids getting killed by drivers is so common that bereaved parents have to beg and plead and scream at their elected officials to get them to even notice, much less do anything.
Recency bias and a tendency to miscalculate the odds of something that is A) awful and B) played on repeat for days. Also, angry reactionaries always demand that the authorities “do something about this!”
Those factors pretty much guarantee that there will be a swift, uncalculated, often showy response to public tragedy.
But also it is the administrative effort/cost of a playground. Plastic is easier to maintain than wood. Less dangerous things produce less complaints by helicopter parents. Sand is expensive to maintain (I shuffled 30 tons of sand with some other parents for a kindergarten).
I got the tail end of this glorious era - even in to the early 90s we had magnificent structures almost this big, with swings that made you feel like you could touch the stars because the chains were so long. The entire class sprinted to the playground every recess period. There was a broken arm every 4-5 years, but I sure felt like it was worth the risk. And still do. The late 90s brought about rapid change and by the time I graduated high-school in 2000 nobody used the “playground” because it was just boring after being ripped apart and replaced with safe alternatives like giant tic-tac-toe boards.
Same for me - I remember a giant "airplane" frame, made of steel pipes/tubing, it was maybe 5 meters wide, 10 meters long, and was at least two meters off the ground.
There were little ladders to enter the body, and monkey-bars along the wings.
I've often thought back and wished I had photographs of it, as it was in a giant field of grass, on a huge slab of concrete. When you fell, and you'd always fall, you remembered it.
Most of the UK parks were like that; concrete/tarmac islands with heavy/solid items on them.
Later there were token changes, removing the tarmac and putting in wood-chip. Eventually even that wasn't enough and all the "dangerous" items were removed and replaced with smaller ones, with rounded corners and less risk of falling.
The school my kids go to still has much of the same equipment it had when I went there in the 1980s. You know, the stuff just made from galvanized pipe, some of it hilariously awkward and unnecessarily tall. Even the newer swings are still plenty long.
Not every playground has been replaced with tic tac toe boards at ground level. That's just places that cheaped out. There are still plenty of playgrounds with equipment you can get seriously injured on. Though I don't know if I'd call that a metric to strive for, exactly.
I grew up in the 80's and the school in my town had a playground like this from when it was first built in the 60's (1960's, obv), but it didn't get much attention. In the mid-80's there was a "new" playground built that was mostly wooden with metal slides, poles, some tire pit thing and monkey bars that were 8' off the ground. Splinters were an every day occurrence, the slide would get hot enough to burn in spring and summer, and in the winter if you had a hole in your mittens, your hand would get stuck to anything metal.
But the thing that really terrifies me thinking back is the "cushion" they put down on the ground. These days it's all shredded foam rubber or wood chips so if you fall, you're not hitting anything sharp. This playground however had GRAVEL. And not just from when it was first installed, they trucked in fresh gravel every six months. Cut hands, torn pants and shirts with streaks of blood were common. God forbid if you got some in your shoe. And of course, kids would throw handfuls of rocks at each other, why not? The teachers on playground duty of course did nothing to discourage any of this. Probably why in a school of less than 200 kids, there were 3 nurses.
" The entire class sprinted to the playground every recess period. There was a broken arm every 4-5 years, but I sure felt like it was worth the risk. And still do."
I'd be OK with it if a broken arm wasn't such a dire financial incident. I imagine it is very difficult to let kids do things like climbing trees, playing on monkey bars, or jumping on a trampoline if you are looking at a deductible that a fair chunk of your monthly income (if not all of it).
I'll also mention that in the 90's, the city I lived in was working on adding playgrounds to elementary schools because they didn't all have them. The existing playgrounds were put in by parents, which really meant that there weren't playgrounds in poor areas. They weren't building tic-tac-toe on the ground, either. They weren't necessarily metal, but still included slides and climbing and swings.
There is something of a resurgence of WW-II ruins like inspired structures. Less of the rounded corners and more things that resemble ad-hoc structures that might be found in ruins. Not to say sharp objects but things that contain some adventure and discovery... be it having multiple levels (earthen or otherwise) safe simulacra of vehicles, climbing, jumping, etc.
the one removal I agree most with is metal slides --hot, hot... though Glen park playground installed metal slides for some reason and so does yerba buena.
Things appear to be different in the UK. I went to a new playground (new as in weeks old) the other day. It has multiple metal slides, a sand pit, merry-go-rounds, towering wooden structures to climb on (perhaps 5+ metres), monkey bars, exposed concrete climbing wall/structure etc. Some photos here: https://www.brentcrosstown.co.uk/claremont-park-play
A recent realization I had is why Europe is less lawsuit prone and generally seems less concerned with liability – we don’t need to sue anyone to afford a broken bone.
It was absolutely shocking to me how many times my insurance claim form for a snowboarding accident in USA asked if I really don’t plan on suing anyone. The insurance company tries very very hard to not be the one who pays up … now imagine someone who doesn’t have good insurance.
I imagine the chance of getting sued for every playground injury makes you design things differently.
I don't know about either the US or health insurance but there is a concept called 'subrogation', which means that if the insurance company pays a claim then they have the right to sue the person who caused it.
for sure. we had a 20' tall rope swing (with a big knot at the bottom to put your feet on) at my middle school. we'd do tricks like taking all four limbs off the rope at the far apex and catching it again on the way down. we'd also do backflips out of the regular metal chain swings. none of us broke any bones, surprisingly.
They show up as small features on new playgrounds where I live. However, our nearest neighbourhood playground was recently revamped, and the council polled nearby residents so we could vote on what sort of elements we were hoping to see added. I thought that was quite positive.
As a person who grew up before everything got all woke, I can attest to playgrounds of yore being dangerous, and thus, exciting and interesting places.
I have no fear of heights, but a healthy respect has been instilled in me from various attempts by my younger self to reenact various action scenes from the glorious testosterone fueled action movies we had access to without parental supervision as small kids, it was absolutely wonderful.
Being a parent today and seeing the dull shit my own son will have access to, I don't feel the least safer.. Sure, he might not fall down and hurt himself THERE.. but he also won't learn it there.. where there at least is soft sand below, and where he could have learned many of the dangers of the physical world in a scaled-down and at least somewhat controlled manner.
Remember those spinning things, "roundabouts" or whatever they are called.. Every child who survived one of the more energetic bouts on those things, they know something about centrifugal force and how after a certain threshold, keeping yourself in the center is the only way to avoid bruises.. It gives some general ideas about the mechanics of the world and your body, and your strength.. It improves your ability to move about in the physical world in a safe way.
Occasionally I see HN posts that look to me like announcements that pigeons are extinct, and that lead to elegiac stories of pigeons, and discussions of the trends in society that led to their extinction. Only I can walk to any park in town and see pigeons roosting on the statues.
There are plenty of merry-go-rounds and monkey bars in the playgrounds of my region, plenty of tall swings and slides.
Merry Go Round. As teenagers we would spin it until one of us gave up and flew off of it lol. Until someone was yeeted off. Loser had to buy everyone candy if they experienced no serious injuries (no injuries in years of doing it every week, somehow).
I saw a video of some kids that put a small (probably 50-100cc kids motor bike) against one. The speed it developed was like some NASA testing machine. It was awesome and a bit scary. One kid passed out. They are still probably my favorite playground construct.
Meh. How old are your kids? Mine climbs all over, on top, around, etc the playgrounds. The default parts are safe sure but he prefers to go on top of the whole thing then slide down the support arm. They’ll figure it out.
Sure. A lot of the playground are kinda dull today especially as the kids get older. My kids learned to climb trees in my yard and in the parks around. They also sometimes climb on top of the playground elements to get their thrills.
At primary school in Australia we had monkey bars like the ones in the photos. Made of 2” steel tubes, probably galvanized and polished over time by decades of kids greasy palms. You know what that feels like. I think they must behave been about 5 meters high total. When I was there it was just that and the dirt below it. You knew as a kid to be careful - that shit must be hard wired into us.
I had since moved to the US, but I visit every few years. Over time it’s been “made more safe”. The first thing they did was add finely desiccated rubber tube to the ground. I guess a kid who falls, eventually bounces.. must be a nice way to land after breaking all kinds of stuff on the way down. A few years later, they chopped the bars to half height. Whoever is making decisions is doing it reluctantly, I think. Years later the rubber shredding is there, but the bars are reduced again - it’s been modified to a simple set of three swings.
So boring. I think it’s the parents overthinking risk.
Steel tube monkey bars. We still had them at primary school when I was a kid in the 90ies in Germany. One day I slipped and fell to the ground on my back - I got up, checked for injures (none), and then I noticed that I couldn't breathe anymore. I know today that my breathing tube collapsed. Breathing felt like sucking on a blocked drinking straw. I still remember it extremely vividly - there was no panic, I just quietly walked around the playground and recalled that I once timed how long I could hold my breath. I set down on a trunk and calmly accepted that I was going to die in around a minute. There was a thought that my parents would be very sad. After maybe 30 seconds, airflow was suddenly possible again, and I continued playing.
That being said, they opened a new playground here a few months ago , and a 2 days later the daughter of my wife's colleague fell down from the fort on the picture and had a concussion, so I don't think playgrounds got much safer here in the last 50 years.
I think this is good. From my experience with children: if the playground is safe, and thus boring, they will just climb surrounding trees and fall down from them.
Holy crap, a mind of a child... glad you are around to tell the story!
As a kid, we climbed what we could and often jumped from it. Fire/maintenance ladders on school buildings that were 5+ meter tall. Once we were jumping from that roof, small idiots as we were, it was scary as hell. Or forming a long queue of kids who ran up to first story of a building, jumped from balcony on grass (solid 4 metres), got themselves together and ran up again. Group behavior certainly didn't help - if one mustered enough courage to do something, the temptation for the rest was massive.
My mind of adult doesn't comprehend how we survived all this without ending up on wheelchairs or dead. I was constantly bruised, my legs were khaki map of colors that would gain attention of social services today. I am not aware of any single serious injury to anybody I knew, although I had few broken bones over childhood, never from the most dangerous stuff. I recall few hard hits though, ie once falling from bike in frontal way that made me unconscious for few seconds. I just got up a bit dizzy, dusted myself, checked bleeding bruises and moved on.
When a kid died, it was always something else - ie being hit by a car for whatever reason for example.
As parent myself, I am not sure if we are more sensitive than our grandfathers were, their generation very visibly didn't communicate their emotions so openly (I discussed this with various europeans and americans and this experience seems universal), but I don't think they felt/cared less. Just whole mindset was different, where the threshold ok/wtf lies.
Kids are resilient little creatures. They'll heal up from a bruise here and there or a broken bone, no problem. When you get older, you become much more massive so falls hurt you more and your ability to heal slows down.
This is why you as an adult are not allowed to enjoy a bouncy castle. The insurance companies won't cover adult use of one because the risk and severity of injury is so much greater.
We also had those nice, red Asbestos playgrounds everywhere. I still remember one playground that was next to a path that was called "der rote Weg" ("the red way") until suddenly it was not red anymore. Young me was very upset about that.
I was obviously very young so I might have misunderstood my parents, but from what I remember, asbestos was mixed in with the gravel that was used to pave paths and/or playgrounds. I remember the "red way" and another playground that at some points switched from red gravel to gray gravel.
No idea, asbestos was used a lot back then. I guess it is entirely possible that some random playgrounds in Bielefeld did not make big headlines. That was pre-internet also, no ideas if local newspapers from back then would be digitised and/or easily searchable.
I grew up in a small town, we had crapy playgrounds and compensated by using everything else in the environment, climbing on fences, trees, monuments and such. We were also, as kids, left unsupervised most of the time.
Living now in a bit city, with beautiful playgrounds where parents hover and kids don't even get into fights, causes me a deep cognitive dissonance.
Everything I did was fun and I believe only mildly dangerous, and yet I would not be comfortable letting my kids alone to play in the sort of ways I did.
I still recall the mass blistering that would occur after a few races across the bars we had in my school, mid-summer'ish. Seems to me the #1 danger for us Aussies was the roasting we'd get on the bars until a few kids had gotten across first, cooling things down with their sweat/blood.
Nevertheless, when the playgrounds went away, we still had the bloody beatings known as Aussie-rules-footie .. good times, good times.
I haven't had a close look at contemporary playgrounds but they certainly don't look anything like this.
I'm kind of torn on this.
On the one hand, I was lucky enough to grow up in an environment without much supervision; just about the only fear drilled into me by dad was "don't screw around with electricity". Other than that, we got up to a lot of trouble and the sensation of visceral fear from a massive miscalculation of physics was something I got accustomed to, amongst other forms of childhood terror of my own making. From my perspective, it's hard to argue in favor of a sheltered, over-safe childhood compared to a childhood where boys will be boys.
But on the other hand, minor scrapes aside, a close childhood friend died in an ATV accident that was completely avoidable if we had any sort of safety standards, and I did crack my skull open once and had to be rushed to the ER.
I wonder what the right balance between the two would look like.
> I wonder what the right balance between the two would look like.
Appropriate safety standards. ATVs with helmets and four wheels not three. Tall playgrounds with appropriately soft ground materials for falling. Eliminating the stupid dangers without eliminating all of the danger. Having a decent sense of progression of risks. Having good responses when accidents do happen.
Basically design experiences expecting nonzero accident rates and design for those failures to go well.
Yeah, that sounds reasonable. I feel like the article makes some good points with terrible illustrations. I mean, on the playgrounds I was around, the swings had metal frames, solid bars rather than chains and the fence was within jumping/falling distance. These are all things that are improved these days without changing anything about the size of the swing itself. We don't have to show the playground as a dangerous gauntlet that it was decades ago as an good alternative to the oversimplified things we see today.
Haha, we did things like twist together the wires in an electric cord and plug it in.
In another post, I remarked how we built an electric DC motor in Cub Scouts out of wood, nails, and wire. It spun merrily with a 1.5V dry cell. Naturally, that wasn't enough power to satisfy, it needed more cowbell. So we attached it to an electric cord and plugged it in.
It vibrated fiercely for a few seconds, then burst into flames. I learned about AC that day.
I've been shocked many times by 220V, but it wasn't until I got my own TV that I started respecting electricity. The teacher was a flyback converter (and its capacitors).
Only had to be shocked once to understand you don't fuck around with electricity. I don't remember much about it now, but I do remember the pain.
Second time I learned not all insulation is equal - got shocked through a basic screwdriver's plastic handle, that was a real WTF moment, I thought "how is this possible, I did everything right, didn't touch anything conductive?" :D
From then on I was really careful, learned to test/stop/discharge outlets, capacitors, and anything with electricity.
>I wonder what the right balance between the two would look like.
There ain't one that ll work for everyone (but maybe climbing trees with earth beneath them..?). And this is not specific to this particular topic.
The whole of human existence is finding the spot of right balance for themselves between opposing pair of forces. But "Freedom + Fun + mental fortitude" <-> "Safety+ big brother watching over you + less freedom" is probably a one goes on throughout ones whole life..
But the forces that wants to exploit you will happily sell you a "right balance" that is hard to objectively argue against, which happen to be one of the curse of our "modern" times.
Adventure Playground in Berkeley, California is a throwback to wilder playgrounds (and then some). They hand out saws, hammers, nails, and paint to 5-year-olds. Kids can modify / extend play structures however they want. The slides seem nearly vertical. Most kids smash hard in the zipline sand pit. (Guardians have to sign liability waivers at the entrance.)
My kid absolutely loves that place.
I took my kids there once during a visit to Berkeley about twenty-five years ago, and even then it seemed daring and against the grain. I don’t think that one visit was enough for my kids to see the attraction of the place, but I sure did. I would have loved to be able go there when I was a child.
> While some psychologists — and many parents — have worried that a child who suffered a bad fall would develop a fear of heights, studies have shown the opposite pattern: A child who’s hurt in a fall before the age of 9 is less likely as a teenager to have a fear of heights.
This feels like they have the correlation/causation backwards. I suspect people who don't have so much of a built-in fear of heights are more likely to be hurt in falls from height.
One has to keep in mind that in the early 1900s a lot more kids got seriously injured or died. There were so many more things without any thought about safety.
But the US may take things a bit too far today. In Norway where I live kids still walk and bike to school. Most schools have forests and rugged terrain to play with. The playgrounds are slightly safer than when I was a kid, but you still got to be careful when climbing trees, rock walls etc.
Also in the early part of the 20th century there were far few medical interventions. And today, medical debt is crippling to many families’ financial wellbeing, causing bankruptcy in many cases. In addition to removing sources of undue harm and suffering from our children, it makes sense to avoid situations where your standard of living would be jeopardized by a trip to the ER.
There is only one playground I remember which didn't bore me like after half an hour (unfortunately it got dismantled some years ago and doesn't exist anymore) and had the heights, challenges, speeds (steep long slides) exciting for a 6-10 year old version of mine.
But most of the times me and my buddies just climbed, jumped and fell from 'ordinary' structures around our city. We specifically looked out for like interesting bridges, little monuments, fire escapes, rooftops to climb up to etc.
Strained ankles, wrists, broken toes, bleeding/scratched up elbows, knees, hands, noses, mild concussions, things you would expect from skating and such. No broken arms or legs, though.
Tbh the most terrifying, horrible things happened in day to day ordinary traffic.
I remember vividly from the aforementioned playground, once, one small boy (4-5 years old) playfully but erratically running away from the perimeters out on to a bike lane and getting smashed by a race cyclist (probably riding 20-30mph) before my very eyes. There was screaming (of shocked parents), loud yelling from the cyclist himself and an unconscious child lying there still.
Also second hand stories of trucks hitting cyclists, buses hitting schoolchildren ... the worst things I've heard of from falling, tripping, slipping were broken limbs with the following plaster castings displayed as a badge of honor.
So, the most dangerous things for children out there are adults (with overpowered machines).
The limitation of this to the early 1900s was probably just a result of the particular collection of photos the blog found that inspired the post. The most dangerous thing (and the thing I was looking for) in this post is the second-to-last photo, the maypole, and there were two of those in my grammar school playground, mounted in bare concrete. Every recess or lunch period, at least one kid ended up bleeding.
If you're not familiar with playground maypoles, they're like the English morris dancing-type maypoles with the ribbons sprouting out of the top of the pole. But instead of ribbons, there are chains with handles on the end, and instead of wrapping around the pole, the chains rotate within the base, allowing the children to spin around the pole itself. Every kid is attached to the same spinning element, so all of their energy is summed as they run around the pole, so eventually one or more kids are airborne, holding a chain with one or both hands, spinning around a pole at merry-go-round speeds, over concrete.
The intense nerfing (and limiting of access) of the world for US kids is very recent. This playground of 1912 looks almost identical to my playground of 1982.
Back then, most parents were way too busy to be helicopter parents. Kids were left to their own devices. I grew up with swings in our backyard that were a death trap. The seats were thick, heavy planks of solid wood connected to the frame by long, heavy chains. I used to swing so high - reaching for the sky - jump off - and then land feeling so good that I forgot the swing was still swinging. How I survived getting clunked by that thing in the back of the head (more than once!) without a serious skull fracture, I will never know.
If I came in injured, my mum would fuss over me to confirm I was ok-ish. If I was, the parental concern would flip and she'd whack me hard and tell me not to do it again. :/
How are you pretty sure about that? According to survey data, even full time employed mothers (let alone fathers) spend on average about double their time on leisure and sport (2.89hr/day, including 1.48hr/day watching TV) than on caring for children (1.37hr/day).
I remember we had an ancient playground at our school when I was a kid last century and this girl fell thru the jungle gym and caught all her front top teeth on a bar on thing while falling down thru the middle, sticking some straight out and taking the rest clean out of her face. Good times!
By the time we reached middle school, ours was an old elementary school converted into one for slightly older kids too big for a wooden/metal playground. We had this big climbing arch thing but since it was a newly organized school and a crazy neighborhood we just got on top of the thing and coordinated swinging ourselves on each side of it back and forth until the whole thing came crashing down in a pile of splinters.
Looks great, kids aren't stupid, with more risk kids are more careful. Even infants will back away from a high ledge. Sadly around 1990 kids played at the local park and had a blast, up to 10-12 years old. By 1995 the revisions had made things MUCH safer, and much less fun, to the average age dropped to 6. By 2000 it had dropped to 3.
If it's boring kids will find something else to do.
Sure. Problem kids with no exposure to risk have no sense of accomplishment, no sense of risk, nothing to help them grow up. Should we not let kids run, for fear they skin their knees? Not let them climb any structure/tree/building for fear they might fall? Not let them have matches? A knife?
Kids without exposure to risks and accomplishments grow up to be poor adults.
Most kids are good at judging their own capabilities. But at the same time, many kids are bad at judging their own concentration and tireness-level. It's one thing to climb up a thing once or twice. Do it 10 times in a row and you are way more prone to accidents.
We, as parents, can clearly see if our 4 year old starts to lose concentration, but is still excited to climb all the things at the same time. That's when accidents start to happen.
I don't think it's the era, more the lack of wealth/means. Parents back then couldn't afford to not let their kids be more self sufficient.
My partner is from rural Ireland, and grew up a 30 minute drive from the nearest doctor or A&E. They were fairly poor and only had one car, which her dad had at work during the day. Her mother was a stay at home mum. No mobiles existed, and there was no public transport except a bus every 2 hours with the bus stop a good 30 minute walk away from their house.
There was TV but only a couple of channels. No internet. No library. There was nothing for her to do growing up except roam the countryside and injure herself.
Her mum was a busy lady at home (duties of an Irish wife), so she was literally thrown outside in the mornings and told not to come home until dinner.
The stories she can tell about suffering broken or cracked bones and not going to hospital are horrifying to me. I mean I think unless she had been bleeding out they just sat tight. She has scars she doesn't know how she got.
My school had a set of ~7 meters high monkey bars, it was so long kids had to slide down the vertical support posts, only a few were brave enough to climb on it and even fewer had the strength to reach the end. It was demolished in 00s.
The other crazy piece of equipment I never saw again were these swings. Unlike ordinary swings where you just sit and oscillate 120 degrees, with these, you had to hang from the hand holds, the rotation was not limited by the top bar and could rotate 360 degrees (some regular swings had that too, though). The swings were symmetrical and counterbalanced, so two people could swing at the same time on the opposite sides, the design encouraged rotation instead of swinging, lifting you about 3 meters high. My classmate broke both her arms on these, soon after the swings were removed.
Mine too! They were set upright (like they are on a vehicle) and partly buried in the ground. Kids would crawl in them and just hang out in the cool shade inside. There were 3 tires, one was definitely "the best", and you had to be fast if you wanted to get any of them!
I remember that those big tires were 1) fun to climb on, and 2) an early and lasting lesson that things get really hot when sitting out in the sun, and that sometimes things feel cold before you realize they are burning the living fuck out of you.
When I was growing up, the local burgerking had an amazing playground. It was a three story monster where the way up was by going into a cylindrical tube, fully metal, with a ladder in it. Once you get in, you are going up. Once up, the way to get down was to pray-and-lean to get a firestation style pole to the ground, or you had to jump to reach it.
Kid got killed on it, so the local place took metal and sealed off the entrance. Some kids tried to climb the fire poles up and got hurt, so they had to demolish it.
I keep trying to find photographs of it to show my wife / kiddo, but it seems noone took pics. Or, at least, it was never posted online. I'd like to find out how much of my memory is real, and how much of it was because I was a tiny kid.
It must be said, however, that the general tolerance for child injuries was much higher. I grew up in the 1970s and a child breaking a limb was mostly expected (on the playground, skiing, sport activities). Anecdotally, I got away pretty well with just an ankle splintered by a playground see-saw, while most peers suffered a broken limb at least once. And this, while playgrounds already started to become "boring" – nothing compared to what could be still found in some places. (Personally, I was not allowed to use these.)
When I was a kid much if the playground was constructed out of old tires. Car tires, truck tires, tractor tires. There was a fortress made of tires right near the entrance of the playground we called TireTown; it had tire bridges connecting the main fortress to two tire outposts. One of the most common ways to play on TireTown was a tag variant called TireTown Tag, which added the stipulation that you were "it" if you touched the ground or otherwise left the bounds of TireTown (including the bridges and outposts). There was also a tower made of stacked tractor tires, small geodesic tire jungle gyms, and other structures.
There were also the swings and slides and stuff, great big tall BurkeBuilt slides that rose like 20 feet in the air and burned your butt on a hot day.
Of course the personal injury and chemical exposure lawyers prevailed. Google Maps satellite imagery of my elementary school reveals that TireTown, the tire tower, other structures, and original steel swings and slides have all been removed. A nice, safe, colorful plastic foam-padded playground occupies a small corner of the area once occupied by my playground. Such is life.
I had a very bold toddler to look after for a long time. She used to love climbing about on playgrounds but I would regulate her activity quite strictly. I remember her pestering me to let her go on the big kid's slide which eventually I allowed.
I had failed to realise that because she was wearing a nappy / diaper she would experience a near frictionless decent. I remember watching her shoot off the end of the slide and skip (on her bum) across the rubber and bark chipping off ramp like a flat stone over a pond.
Poor little thing, she was totally shocked a bit sore but not too damaged with scuffed elbows and one thigh and of course a pair of tights written off.
However, the moral is a good one, for quite a while after that she flatly would not go on slides of any sort. Eventually she decided that some slides were fun and ok, and went back on them, and she went back to all slides after about a year. By then she was much more competent and in control. I believe that in a small way it helped her understand and calibrate physical risks, it didn't make her any less bold in the long run, but it did make her more sensible.
I don't see there anything really dangerous, sure those bars in first two photos could be lower, but if you can't handle the height you will be anyway probably too afraid to climb there.
After all most of the work injuries during fall happen from height ~1.5m when your body don't have enough time to rotate and you will just hit your head, so bigger height can be actually beneficial for safety.
Here in Czechia closest playground to my house has rubberized ground and bars (dinosaur backbone) for climbing on them at roughly 3m height, don't think it would really make much difference if they were 1-1.5m higher, if someone falls down from that height on head it can be pretty dangerous already from current height. In the end my kids are climbing on trees in park nearby in bigger height than in playground.
I grew up as kid in 80/90s mostly just with metal constructions playgrounds and my most serious childhood injury was when I took down matress down from bed and had great idea to jump from matress to wooden surface to break my skull, so much for dangerous playgrounds.
Btw. there is still fairly dangerous (longest) slide in Parukarka park in Prague I ocassionally try, it's pretty long and fast and you just need to stay there short time to see kid flying off, if it's cleaned from rubber left from shoes, happened to me, happened to FIL visiting, seems kids with lower weight don't go that fast usually as adults. So you can still find fun rides even nowadays.
There's a playground about a 15-20 minute walk from my house with a "stealth" fireman's pole. The pole appears to be a support for a 3-story-tall slide, but the top is just close enough that adventuresome kids can jump 3-4 feet from a ladder to the pole.
The first time I saw some rather rambunctious kids do the jump, I was impressed with the designers for hiding such a fun feature.
I grew up playing in the woods, away from more urban environments, and eventually started a family in a very urban environment. It was very jarring to discover what people tend to think is acceptable for kids to get up to; letting my 4 year old climb a “big kid” slide seemingly caused several people to think I was indirectly attempting infanticide or something.
I climbed very high trees and nearly shit myself trying to get back down. Sometimes I fell out of trees. I built dangerous forts. I started fires and cooked fish on them. I cut sticks with knives and shot at bottles with a small gun or a sling shot.
My kids have no idea what this stuff is like and how sheltered they are. I try to get them out in the world, I take one of them spearfishing and harvesting out in the ocean, we fish a bit, but ultimately they really are quite soft.
I have a feeling we don’t need to send our kids up trees and make them cook fish on a fire to “harden up”, but adversity in various forms and the opportunity to overcome it either with a group or independently seems invaluable to developing kids. I do get the sense (even from my wife) that this attitude isn’t so broadly accepted or comfortable for people.
I even volunteered with a scouting group in hopes my kids might find some good opportunities, but it was extremely mellow. Nice people, some great camp fire talk, but the kids were free to complain their way out of difficult tasks or discomfort and mostly played magic cards or sat lazily through activities we’d put together.
Parents were quick to complain to us if their kids expressed that they had to do anything they disliked. For example, a moderate hike or carrying water buckets for their camp mates.
I’m not sure. Is it such a big deal? Am I myopic and assuming my youth experience had more value than theirs?
Sometimes I wonder if I wouldn’t be better off if my childhood was a little more demanding, really. I don’t mean this in a masculine context specifically, but I often feel soft. Lack of discipline, unwilling to face discomfort, etc. Perhaps my perspective on the entire matter is limited and/or poor to begin with.
I’ve read quite a bit of childhood psychology around these matters from the likes of Steve Biddulph and D.W. Winnicott but I think I could stand to read quite a bit more.
These kinds of topics always remind me of the sort of cyclical silliness evident in this quote:
The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.
I grew up in a more rural area and we always played in a old stonequarry in the woods. I went back there a few years ago and was quite shocked how high that was. I dont think our parents were aware of that. Well - we all survived (not without some injuries to teach us a lesson).
Ha, me too! It was a pretty dangerous mix of falling and drowning opportunities. The quarry I went to was flooded by a natural spring.
I never knew people personally who died in it, but there were several people who had throughout my childhood. As I recall, it was mostly teenagers drinking and swimming. If you add alcohol, even a staircase can be dangerous
In the early 1980s my elementary school here in New York had a "rope wall" in the gymnasium, similar to what you'd see on an army obstacle course. It was suspended from the ~30' ceiling of the gym and the top (the metal pole the rope wall was suspended from) was about ~20 feet off of the hardwood gym floor - easily high enough to kill or seriously injure anyone who fell. Nonetheless we regularly scaled this rope wall and went over the top and back down the other side without any sort of harness or safety gear of any kind. Adult supervision was also minimal with one gym teacher watching ~25 kids running around the gym tackling different (though mostly less dangerous) obstacles.
When I grew up, there was an old steam locomotive as the centerpiece for a park for kids. We were always climbing around on it. There wasn't anything safe about it, everything was made of iron and stuck out at all angles.
The locomotive is still there, but there's a fence around it now.
They’re often higher than some of the monkey bar things I remember from my childhood in the 70s. Our kids got a genuine feeling of having accomplished something, working up the courage to get to the top and wave for a selfie.
It’s such an incongruous thing to find in a modern sterile British park, with nothing else more than a foot or so off tHe ground, and that having a guardrail just in case.
Sadly, it seems that they’re getting torn out here. Neither of the examples I remember from just 2 years ago still exist.
I went to a primary school in rural Dorset, UK in the 1970s. Our playground equipment consisted of old tractor tyres, and large logs (cylindrical, "processed" logs). Someone would get in a tractor tyre, and the other kids would roll them down the playground, until they crashed into the wire fence at the bottom. :D We'd assemble the tyres and logs into "bases". It was such good fun, in lessons I remember counting the minutes until playtime, so we could get back to the "real business" of base building.
> Children need to encounter risks and overcome fears on the playground”, said Ellen Sandseter, a professor of psychology at Queen Maud University in Norway. “I think monkey bars and tall slides are great.
I agree but as far as I can tell everyone agrees with this. Every playground near me has monkey bars and tall slides. They're safer than these photos but you could certainly still get hurt on them.
My playground as a suburban kid was a pond at the end of my street. The subdivision was new and built in a farm field.
The pond was about three feet deep but there were drainage ditches extending out. We'd catch "pollywogs" tadpoles, squish giant black ants, and light fires. We'd also made elastic guns using a board and two nails. This would be mid 1970s.
My school may have had a playground but I don't recall.
In the 80s, I was in a kindergarten where we had a "bird cage" like structure, maybe 2m-3m tall, not sure if it was fixed to the ground. There were a lot of accidents, I barely remember anything about it, beside maybe being painted in blue, but it was fun and scary at the same time.
I remember also a few accidents, generally it was mainly kids crashing on different school benchs, ending up bleeding....
Something of a shame we haven't put more emphasis on helping kids learn their limits early in a safe way. You don't have to actually choose between just letting them run free and finding their limits by breaking a bone or making the environment all safe and low risk. You can, instead, educate kids about navigating the world.
When I was a kid in Eugene, Oregon in the late 1950s, before I started school we had the Rough Country and the Bomb Shelter.
The Bomb Shelter really was a bomb shelter. We had one of the first houses on the street, and just down the hill was a house under construction. All they had built so far was the basement and the bomb shelter. The kids in the neighborhood made that our clubhouse and brought snacks so we could hang out and keep safe from any nuclear attack.
The Rough Country was just up the hill from our house. They were clearing out some trees to begin construction, so when we needed a break from the Bomb Shelter, we made tunnels under the fallen trees to have another place to hang out.
I had been playing with electricity all this time. When the TV "went on the fritz", as they always did back then, my dad let me pull out all the tubes, put them in a cigar box (I loved that aroma!) and take them to the corner grocery where they had a tube tester. I would test each tube one by one, adjusting the settings for the tube type, until I found the bad one. Dad would buy a new tube, and when we got back home I plugged each tube back in along with the new one. And the TV worked!
In kindergarten I pranked the class. I had a one farad electrolytic capacitor with the terminals on top. That is a big scary capacitor! I charged it up at home all the way to 1.5 volts. Then I brought it to class and demonstrated how dangerous it was. While I was setting up the demo, I accidentally touched both terminals, one with each hand. I started shaking and writhing around like I was being electrocuted!
Somehow I managed to free myself from the electric charge. And then, conveniently, I'd brought along a screwdriver and used it to short out the two terminals, with a most satisfying bang and a spark.
Then I told one of the girls in class, "It's OK. I discharged it. It's safe now. You can touch the terminals and it won't hurt you."
In first grade, that same girl handed me an astronomy book that she thought I might like. I said, "Oh, I read that last year."
It was not one of my finest moments. I wonder what opportunities I may have missed?
Halfway through the year, the school got tired of my troublemaking and moved me to second grade. It was scary being with the big kids.
In third grade, I was still making trouble, so they had me spend the afternoons in a special ed class called Mrs. Spencer's Workshop, where we could invent projects of our own. My first one was drawing maps of all the freeway interchanges on the new I-5 route between Eugene and Portland. We had family in Portland and used to drive up 99 East to get there, and this new "freeway" idea fascinated me. I'd made rough sketches in the car, so I turned them into more polished and colorful maps.
One odd thing was that I could not draw curved lines! I had to construct them with a series of short straight lines drawn with a ruler.
For my next project I wanted to make a printed circuit board. I'd designed a simple circuit I called the Current Changer Switch that I wanted to demo in the Science Fair. You could flip a switch and make a light go bright or dim.
Of course I knew how to hand wire the circuit and had tested it that way, but I'd heard about something new called a "printed circuit board".
I didn't know about phenolic boards with copper on them, but I did understand the basic concept of etching a board with resist to protect the traces. So I got my own idea: I would take a sheet of copper, stick electrical tape on both sides to map out the traces, and dunk it in a tank of nitric acid.
I asked Mrs. Spencer if she could get me the materials: a sheet of copper, some electrical tape, and the tank of nitric acid. And she did!
So I taped out the board and and dunked in the tank of acid while Mrs. Spencer and I watched the copper dissolve.
Playground age for me was the early 80s which included the following spaces:
- The neighborhood playground was made out of cast concrete in a few pieces that sat on top of concrete. It looked very similar to this  but had several other concrete pipes that were quite a bit taller. Minor injuries were pretty daily.
- My elementary school playground which was made out of old telephone poles formed into various climbing equipment. Even casual scrambles ended with numerous splinters and tar stains. A couple of the pieces were easily over 10 ft tall. They sat on wood chips or gravel. There was a broken arm or other hospital ready event a couple times a year.
- Another school I went to while transferring during a move had equipment in the middle of the woods with no particular safety padding. Kids regularly jumped from equipment to trees, or fell of the large slides. It was cool looking, I remember at least 2 broken arms while I was there for half a school year.
- A local public park had a 2 story corkscrew slide that kids fell off of, and a 3 story rocket ship structure with a zipline over grass that had numerous other places to fall and get hurt. I believe they eventually tore it all down after some ICU-level injuries befell a few kids. A lot of the equipment here looks very familiar to this particular park 
- Another local public park built a massive climbing structure with most of it 2-3 stories off the ground with numerous slides, poles, swings, and other bits. It was all wood and a guaranteed splinter. There was also a cool tunnel full of graffiti that was also most kids' first introduction to used condoms and drug paraphernalia.
This was on top of the usual assortment of local parks with hand pushed merry-go-round death traps and other odds and ends.
It's a miracle so many of us survived childhood as all the playthings were literally trying to kill us. On the flip side, we're all monkeys and today's playgrounds often don't have much for kids to really do. The old structures on the other hand challenged us kids to overcome our fears and getting to the top of some of them felt like a major life accomplishment and often forced us to build temporary alliances to help each other up, in, down, or across complex and scary feeling play spaces. They taught both real and imagined limits and how to discover the former while defeating the later.
I don't know what the educational and emotional benefit of modern playsets are supposed to support.