Monday, March 3, 2014

Are today's playgrounds too safe?

I completed a survey today by Dr. Mariana Brussoni and Susan Herrington from the University of British Columbia, entitled: Are Today's Playgrounds too Safe? I would encourage you to respond to the survey here. It takes under 5 minutes to complete and it's actually quite fun to reminisce. Please note that I'm not involved with this project in any way and my opinions here may not be reflective of the opinions of the researchers above.

I want to comment on the notion of playground safety just briefly. I'll disclose my bias here - the playgrounds that I typically see in Ottawa do not appear to be any more, or less, safe than the ones I played on. Structurally or physically speaking they quite resemble the play structures that I played on a child. Slides, ladders, ropes, sand, etc. Maybe this isn't true for some (or most) playgrounds, but I'll be sure to keep a lookout around my neighborhood for anything that doesn't look 'normal' to me.

While I don't believe the playgrounds have changed too much (ok maybe a little - the rubber mats that have replaced sand are kind of silly), a lot of things around the playground have. For starters, parents' attitudes about playground safety have changed. On the survey above there is a term called "rough and tumble play" - I responded that, yes, I did do this as a child. I don't know many adults my age who would respond no to this. But I imagine that this is something that's a big no-no at the playground nowadays.

My favorite place to play as a child was the woods at the cottage (that's camp to my hometown residents of Northern Ontario!). Here, children of all ages from the neighboring cottages worked together to build multilevel forts. Big forts...forts you could live in - seriously, we had shingles on the roof. On most days we would kiss our moms goodbye and head into the woods with our tools just after breakfast and we usually needed to be reminded to eat sometime in the early afternoon, only to scarf down food as fast as we could to re-join our friends. We got cuts, scrapes, bruises (not just our egos when we weren't allowed to use the 'big' ax) and a occasionally someone cut their finger with a jack-knife (Ah-Hem...Sass). We actually nicknamed one of the trails 'the bloody foot trail'. But you know what? We had the best damn fort in the bay and we were proud of it.

As the oldest child in our small fort-building industry, it was often my job to delegate tasks to other children - after all, what's a construction site without a foreman around, right? Some of the jobs weren't so fun, and it was tough to delegate them to the other kids knowing this. I like to joke that everything I learned about leading a team I learned building forts in the woods of Horseshoe Bay, ON.

Back to the survey. Are playgrounds too safe? I don't really think so - perhaps marginally more safe than they already were, but it's not like there are any axes, jack-knives or bears hanging around playgrounds (usually, anyways). I think the problem is that kids might be spending too much time being supervised at the playground than building forts in the woods.


  1. What about old rusty trains. "Porter" the train at Bellevue Park was fun when you guys were little. But then an insurance company decided for the city it wasn't safe to play on and now it has a little fence around it saying beware.

    But who am I too tell, I let you guys have tools (and a jack knife) to build a fort. ;-)

  2. You would mention me cutting my finger Mike. But DAD should have known I was "too little" to use a jack-knife. However, I had just down the survey that you had posted, and I have decided to disagree with you. I believe that playgrounds are too safe, mostly due to the fact that parents now a days are not as open to letting their children be free to do as they please. Yes we were lucky to have our camp, and be able to wonder around where ever we pleased (the same as in the city). We never had limits, yet we never went too far from home (because it was our choice). I find now, parents constantly have a leash on their children, and only let them go a short distance away from them. If you sit at Belleview Park, you will see parents constantly running after their children. As soon as they fall, the parents are there to pick them up. I don't remember this being the case when I was younger. I remember, if I fell, I would get up and continue what I was doing. Only going back to mom or dad after I was done playing to get my wounds treated. Or maybe I was just afraid dad was going to cut it off, I don't know.
    Either way, I don't necessarily believe playgrounds are changing, I think parenting and life styles are changing.

  3. Couldn't agree more, Sass. I think parenting and lifestyles are changing more so than the playgrounds themselves.