My Problem With Play Structures

If you ask them, the children may tell you that I don’t like play structures. They would be correct because I do think there is little value in taking a group of children to ‘play’ on a play structure. We often go on outings to places that have play structures but I try to avoid the actual structure.

First you have to consider that I have a mixed age group and although many playgrounds have a smaller structure for the 2-5 year olds and a larger one for the 5-12 year olds the children don’t read the signs and choose the appropriate one.  Even if they did that would mean that my group was playing in two different areas and I can’t adequately supervise them all.

Sure, some of these structures look pretty cool – they are designed to attract our attention.  Each one has funky shapes and bright colors but ultimately the goal is to climb up and slide down.  Now, here I’m talking about the main purpose for which the structure was intended to be used.

I remember many years ago when I was a parent council member of a school which had just installed a new play structure. For the grand opening of the structure a company rep was on hand to demonstrate and ‘teach’ the children how to use the equipment properly.  For most children, using a play structure ‘properly’ translates into don’t ‘play’ on it.

You see, real play is learning that is interesting and fun.  So, once you’ve mastered the climb up/slide down aspect then the play structure becomes boring and you have to create other ways to use it.  Ways for which it the structure was not intended to be used.

For example my own son, at four years of age, had mastered all the aspects of the play structure at the neighbourhood school – a structure designed for 5-12 year olds.  So, for a new challenge he expanded his skills and climbed onto the roof of the platform at the top of the slide.  Now standing more than nine feet in the air, on a sloped platform without a railing he was free to leap off the structure and land – safely – on the ground below.

Play structures are simply too easy to climb up. Most toddlers can manage the steps and ladders on structures designed for school-age children.  But they can’t recognize the risks – hence the sign ‘For 5-12 year olds’.

On play structures children don’t learn to identify the hazards associated with heights. They don’t learn that getting down is often harder than getting up.  They don’t learn that if you don’t wear appropriate shoes climbing is difficult or impossible.  They do learn to ignore safety rules and take unacceptable risks because there are few real consequences.

So I don’t like play structures.

I originally wanted to write about our last field trip and this was intended to be a little background information – but I babbled too much.  My ‘introduction’ became an entire post so now that I’ve explained why I don’t take children to play on play structures, in my next post I’ll tell you about why I made an exception.

What do you think?

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