“If a 10-year-old lit a fire at an American playground, someone would call the police and the kid would be taken for counseling. At the Land, spontaneous fires are a frequent occurrence.”-Rosin This is my favorite quote from the article The Overprotected Kid by Hanna Rosin. My bestfriend recently sent it to me to read and I instantly loved the idea of this kind of playground for children.
The article discusses a unique kind of playground created by Lady Marjory Allen of Hurtwood. She wanted to create places for kids to play that had things the could move around and build with. Everyday could be an entirely different park. “The Land is a playground that takes up nearly an acre at the far end of a quiet housing development in North Wales. It’s only two years old but has no marks of newness and could just as well have been here for decades. The ground is muddy in spots and, at one end, slopes down steeply to a creek where a big, faded plastic boat that most people would have thrown away is wedged into the bank. The center of the playground is dominated by a high pile of tires that is growing ever smaller as a redheaded girl and her friend roll them down the hill and into the creek.”-Rosin. Follow the link if not to read the full article but to at least see the pictures of these places.
This type of playground, where kids can build and create, where they play without adults watching and hovering, is so foreign that all I can picture is a bunch of homeless kids in a junkyard. But think about it, what kid wouldn’t love this kind of park? No matter what toys we buy or what new gadgets are created for children, they have an instinct to be able to create and use their imaginations to make anything we anything for the purpose of play. I don’t know how many random empty boxes we have strewn around the house because I can’t bare to throw them away since Char plays with them daily, using them as something new everytime. It drive my husband crazy because to him it will always be trash. I recently made a small doll bed for her mini Kit Doll and before I had a chance to tediously sew a linen set for the doll bed, Char simply took a few scrap pieces of fabric, folded one up for a pillow and used the others for a sheet and blanket. She was thrilled and I would have thrown the scraps out and measure and sewed matching pieces to fit the bed. I can only imagine the endless play she and a couple friends could have with a small pile of tires in the backyard. Now, onto unsupervised kids…
I can remember taking the girls to the park recently and there was a group of unsupervised kids ranging from age 5-12. Most of them were cussing, several of them were jumping off parts of the playground that were way too high trying to jump into the middle of the swirly slide. I sat shaking my head wondering where there parents were and if they knew how much their kids cussed.
Fast forward to a few days ago and Char has started using the word “damn it” often and correctly. Not because of the playground kids…unfortunately because of me and her Papa. We can’t get mad at her because we say it by mistake all the time, and it made me realize that’s probably where those kids got the words they were using.
Back to the kids at the park, after reading this article I can see that I so easily slip into the overprotective culture of parents wanting to save their children, fearing for their safety and their innocence at every moment. I cringed at my kids hearing this language from these roughion elementary kid thugs. And yet they’ve heard it at home and in the car before. I try not to be one of those people but I clearly still am, at least a little bit. I panicked when Char started watching the kids jump from the high part of the playground, sure she would immediately try it and fall to her death. She didn’t try it but did ask what they were doing….I wanted to say “being dangerous, naughty little kids.” But I didn’t and instead just said “they’re playing a game I think.” Adding quietly “they’re big kids”.
I know I let Char have more freedom than some parents and adults in our current overprotective society and that makes me feel better. There is a wall on the way home from the playground that I always let Char climb on when we are walking home. The ledge she walks is a little wider than a balance beam and at its tallest point she is over my head, but even as my stomach knots up in fear that she will fall, I want her to grow up brave and strong. I don’t want her to constantly fear new things. Her grandma freaked and told her not to climb it the first time she came with us to the park. I know it is risky, and I certainly never want to take Char to the hospital for a broken arm, I would be horrified and would probably never forgive myself but I figure I’m right there by her side and watching, I could probably catch her or at least break her fall, and a few years from now she’d being doing it without me if she were with other kids going to the park, this way at least she’ll be a pro at it and I wont have to worry as much when she’s on her own. Or at least that’s what I tell myself….
I have started reading Working in the Reggio Way to better understand this type of education and I have found that the philosophy behind it is similar, the idea that kids should be trusted more, and given the chance to grow and mature. Very much like the Montessori theory, “Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.” – Maria Montessori. I try my best to follow these ideals and let Char and Goo try to be independent and do things on their own. Does Ivy spill water from a big girl cup? Most of the time. But is it going to ruin the rug or the kitchen floor? No. Is Char covered with bumps and bruises? Sure, but she likes playing and I like that she generally with get right back up and try something again. And I have noticed that when other adults are around to get scared and worried or tells her “I told you that would happen” when she does get hurt, she often doesn’t want to try something again and gets closed off, shy and very quiet. She is already timid by nature and so I feel it is even more important to praise her and encourage her when she does want to climb a wall or try to get water from the fridge on her own. It’s not like I’m giving her a pocket knife and sending her out into the desert to have an adventure…that’s next year.