In the past four years I have warmed a lot of benches on playgrounds. I have been amazed at the evolution of the playground from my childhood days and all the safety measures that are now in place to protect kids from being kids. The playgrounds of today don’t even compare to the playgrounds of my childhood.
Today’s playground is usually a one piece job. Bright colored plastic that is treated to be antibacterial, covered connector bolts, rounded edges and placed on foundation of a springy rubber mat. The premise is safe fun, but its business is all about reduction of possible accidents.
How we ever survived those deathtrap playgrounds of our childhood, I will never know. I took The Scribblers to our local playground yesterday and found that we didn’t have a modern playground. What they did have was everything from my childhood and The Scribblers were in awe.
- Slide – This job was still metal, reached 12 feet in the air and had reached skin peeling temperatures. The unmistakable screech as a child went down assured you that this slide needed a good dose of Pam cooking spray to prevent a child from sticking as they cooked. The ground under the slide had been worn down from the years of children hitting the bottom and stood a good 2 feet below the drop off of the slide. Not only does your child get a butt burning slide but also a nice free fall at the end of the ride.
- Swings with metal chains and black rubber seats. Once again a nice butt burn is the first order of business. After that there is always the chain hand pinch; followed by the weight of an empty swing knocking a child clear off its feet in a 5 foot arch backwards. If you don’t have a bloody nose by now, you aren’t doing it right. There is a rumor that these swings are capable of propelling a child right over the top of the set if you swing hard enough.
- Metal death cage – This metal dome with criss cross bars is about 6 feet in the air and positioned over gravel. The goal is to climb to the top and either be too scared to back down or to just drop to the ground below and see how much gravel you can lodge into your shins.
- Tether ball – I have never understood the real purpose of the tether ball game, but kids sure love to launch the ball and watch it swing around the pole. A kid with good practice can actually swing the ball with enough force and direction to knock a wandering toddler clear off their feet.
- The carousel – My personal favorite, you could always get the thing going so fast that when children tried to get off, they couldn’t stand upright for at least 15 minutes. You could always tell the centripetal force junkies by their green faces and weaving walk. Sometimes a child would try to exit, only to be too afraid to let go of the “hang on” bar and be drug on the side for several rotations or until their leg got caught on a branch that just happened to be laying around.
- Branches and Stones – speaking of that branch that happened to be laying around. A good playground is always full of sticks and stones (Yes, they do break bones, but words will never hurt you) These implements are laying around for the child who is too cool for the actual playground. It gives them something to do as they have rock throwing contests to see if they can actually knock a child off the see-saw or have impromptu sword fights.
As I sit here writing this and subconsciously rubbing the scar on the back of my leg from a metal slide or the dent in my shin from the lodged gravel, I miss my youth. I miss the days that we were allowed to learn the hard way. While I try to protect my children, the playgrounds of our youth can teach a valuable lesson in life. After all, much like a scorching hot rubber swing seat; those hard lessons are the ones that stick. With no rubber matting to protect us, we learned to be more careful after we fell the first time and not always count on a safe, cushioned landing.