So the kids and I were on a long road trip and had about two hours to spend in a playground while we waited for a ferry. Here is the sign we encountered at that playground.
In case you can't read it the sign says "Help us make fun safe, playground designed for ages 5-12." We were tired. We had been driving for three and a half hours, and we needed a break. The kids were wrangy and hyper. Do you think we abided by these rules?
The first is a photo of my daughter, one and a half, climbing up the stairs. The second is her descending the slide. Nowhere could I see any reason that even my toddler would be in any danger from this climber. I can only conclude that it must be fear of liablity that prompted the sign.
More and more I've noticed that children are being prevented and discouraged from doing something that comes very naturally to them- climbing. At the park I hear parents admonishing their kids, to "get down from there! You're climbing too high! You're going to get hurt!" People go on and on about NOT letting kids climb up the slide for example, but I don't think they stop to think WHY their kids shouldn't climb up the slide. Sure, it makes sense when another kid is sliding down, and yes the slide is slippery, but I argue that slide climbing is actually a very valuable skill.
This guy was probably climbing a lot of slides as a child.
From my observation the skills used to climb slides are the very same skills used in slab climbing. The child learns quickly to flatten their feet against the surface, put their weight on their feet and stick their rear out behind them. They learn very fine tuned balance and co-ordination. They aquire a sense of caution, care and concentration, (you never see a child running up a slide recklessly, if they did there would be negative consequences!) You can certainly spot a child while they're climbing the slide, (meaning stand behind, ready to catch them if they fall.) Most adults wouldn't attempt a new climb without protection, so why should a child? I'm a big believer in letting my almost two year old climb, for example, but I attend her while she's trying anything more difficult. I stand behind her and spot her, just as you might spot someone attempting a difficult bouldering problem.
I also think that climbing helps with balance and co-ordination in everyday life. I run a small home daycare, and when I first got my new daycare kid I was surprised at how clumsy he seemed to be. He was two and a half when I got him, yet he had a tendency to lose his balance when stepping over a log, and navigated uneaven ground with great difficulty. When we were at the playground he expected me to put him UP on the climber to go down the slide. He would stand near it and go "up up!" I refused to simply place him on the climber however, and instead offered to help him find footholds and climb up himself. He was quite tearful at first, and I had to give him lots of hugs and reassurance to make up for what must have seemed to him like a sort of neglect. Finally with some coaxing and physical coaching he was able to climb up himself, and decend the slide with ease. He was THRILLED with himself! Since that day I've noticed an astonishing change in him. He seems more confident and capable, and seems to be a lot less clumsy as well. He is actually LESS prone to injury now than he was before he knew how to climb, which is ironic when one considers that most parents are trying to prevent injury by preventing their kids from climbing.
So what are the repercussions of preventing children from climbing? Dr. Mary McCabe, a leading authority on physical education in young children, states that as a result of physical exercise and play: "The research suggests children can raise their achievement level, increase their motivation, heighten their understanding, accelerate their learning timeline, and expand their creativity through motor skills, music, and proper nutrition," (see "Jungle Gym or Brain Gym.") So it's not simply the physical fitness of the child that suffers, it's the academic readiness that is also at risk if a child is not encouraged and stimulated physically.
Even more alarming a study done at Ohio State University found that 86 percent of disadvantaged preschoolers lacked basic motor skills. These skills involved running, jumping, throwing and catching. The study suggests that these children are at increased risk for obesity simply because they do not have the fundamental skills necessary for participation in sports, self confidence and positive attitude.
So, why is it that we're discouraging children from physical activity, such as climbing? In the case of the 5-12 year age restriction on the climber, I think it had more to do with liability than anything else. I am sure that it was more an issue of expense, and a fear of litigation that motivated the manufacturers to impose the age restriction. But I wonder if these issues of liability have had a negative impact on our perception of child safety? I have noticed so many parents restricting their kids- cautioning them when they should be praising them and encouraging them, even putting HELMETS on them to ride TRICYCLES for heaven's sakes. It's like we want to pad our kids and protect them from the world, when ultimately that is impossible. Every kid will get some scrapes. Most kids may break a limb at some point. As they falter they also grow, they learn, they develop... and soon you have a nimble little athelete climbing up a pole, zipping across the monkey bars.
Stifle that feeling of panic, celebrate this little body instead.
The next time you go to a playground with your child try participating rather than sitting at the sidelines. Try climbing the climber, try using the monkey bars, swallow your pride and try the mini zipline. Your kids will get a kick out of it, and you'll enjoy yourself too. Try encouraging your child to climb, help them if you need to by showing them foot placements and techniques. Try taking your kids to an indoor climbing wall and see what you're capable of. Your children will thank you.
My husband Kevin, owner of Juggernaut Climbing Systems , designs and builds custom climbing walls and playground bouders (pictured above.) I have spent most of my marriage trying to get even half as good at rock climbing as he is.
8/30/2010 01:00:12 am
that is SO true. a year or so ago my husband and i had the same conversation about age limits on playgrounds and liability issues. kids need to learn strength, balance and most of all - how to be a kid and have FUN
8/30/2010 01:28:10 am
bravo kate. My favorite play ground as a child was the woods or an old abandoned factory. probably not great. I was dismayed to find that in elementary school girls no longer skip. i had to teach them and haul out my dusty old skipping rhymes, many of which were culturally irrelevant. ( Marilyn Munroe- ZsaZsa Gabor! or Ben Hoss Little Joe Adam!) These things used to be passed along through kids. Molly
8/30/2010 09:31:58 am
Good for you! I have been among those in this Anti-Weenie Revolution since my oldest started climbing furniture :) I would always stand close enough to spot them and observe their agility. Once I saw they were able to be independent, I just let them go. I let them try anything they want to try, with initial spotting on my part. I love how bold my boys are. And I love that you are encouraging physical confidence, agility and strength in your daughter. What a gift! I hope it'll make it harder for her to put up with a dud of a guy because if she can climb a rock wall, why would she bother with someone slacking off their life? :) We need to speak up about this and support our teachers and caretakers in letting our kids play. At the school I work at, kids can't swing on their tummies or wear flip flops b/c of "safety concerns." It drives me nuts! People tell my boys to get down or to be careful all the time. I appreciate knowing there are protective adults in the world in case I miss something happening w/ my boys, but at the same time it bums me out to hear parents raising bigtime weenies with no courage or confidence. Your blog here is right on!
8/31/2010 10:55:44 pm
Hear hear, Kate!
9/1/2010 07:00:08 am
Michelle- Thanks for the comment!
Great points. I posted recently about letting my daughter climb trees after being given some disapproving looks from some bystanding moms. But I think it's important for kids to not only develop their physical skills but their life skills too.
9/12/2010 10:24:50 am
Yes, yes, yes! My parents were incredibly overprotective of us when we were growing up, citing the fact that I was very clumsy. When I got older, I told them they should have put me in gymnastics to help me get over my clumsiness instead of trying to protect me from it. They have had similar attitudes towards my daughter who is almost 4, but I usually just ignore them. The only point I want to "argue" with in your article is the part about helmets and tricycles. No, kids don't need helmets to ride tricycles, but I've put one on my daughter because I want her to connect the helmet with riding so I won't have a fight later when she learns to ride a bike.
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A blog on art, roller derby and life.
I'm an artist and mother of two in Courtenay, BC. I've completed a project called the "Madonna and Child Project," and I'm now working on a series of roller derby inspired drawings. In my spare time I play roller derby with the Brick House Betties.