What was the playground like that you hung out at as a kid? Was there a see-saw that rose as high as your mother’s head with no sides, just a bar to hold onto?
A long metal slippery dip that seemed to gather momentum at the bottom so you were spat out like gum onto a footpath? Swings on metal chains? Tyre swings? Tarzan ropes? And monkey bars that stretched far into sky so we could all practise our swings and drops as long as our hands could grip.
Oh, there were broken ankles when kids landed, displaced elbows and fractured bones. But you wouldn’t have traded it for the world would you?
Contrast that to the one you take your child to these days. The one so boring your four-year-old often wanders over to peek at your Facebook feed as you scroll through from the bench.
The biggest thrill they get is on the swing as they pester you to push them higher and higher.
The rest of it? Blah. It's probably more appealing to tiny tots.
Over the last few decades we’ve seen our playgrounds become regimented. Brightly coloured, structurally designed, safe.
Shorter equipment with enclosed platforms and no more baking asphalt underfoot or grass. There is rubber, wood chips or other materials designed for softer landings. Flying foxes were phased out, merry-go-rounds banned and those swinging, bouncy animals with a large metal coil disabled and cast to the scrap heap.
Experts assessed safety risks and imposed height restrictions for items to be climbed as one looming fear lingered in the backs of the minds of schools and councils – lawsuits.
The thing is that as they were getting phased out, expert after expert said there was nothing to fear, that we were doing our kids a disservice. But yet phased out they were.
In fact, some injuries like long fractures of the arm actually increased after the introduction of softer surfaces.
David Ball, a professor of risk management at Middlesex University in London wrote of how children and parents believing it to be safer overrated its performance. So arms were still being broken and yet we continued to bubble wrap our kids.
Watch a news report discussing whether playground have become too safe. Post continues after video...
The debate isn’t new.
In 2011 Ellen Sandseter, a professor of psychology at Queen Maud University in Norway told The New York Times, “Children need to encounter risks and overcome fears on the playground.”
“I think monkey bars and tall slides are great. As playgrounds become more and more boring, these are some of the few features that still can give children thrilling experiences with heights and high speed,” she said.
Now it seems finally someone has been listening and after years of safety and boredom there is an increased push to bring back the ‘danger’ in playgrounds.
Trapezes, flying foxes, giant slides and cubbies in trees (yes, right above the ground) are back.
News Limited reports that the country’s highest authority on playground safety, Associate Professor David Eager has revealed that playgrounds are going to be fun again. Moving equipment is being reintroduced, flying foxes and carousels.
“We have increased the fall height on some play equipment to 3m, so you can give that perception of risk,” he told News Limited.
“It might not sound like much, but in terms of design of the playground, it gives landscape architects much more room to come up with exciting things. Kids will fall — they fall all the time. And 3m sounds like a long way for a child to fall. But there’s compelling evidence that this increased risk of falling will not translate to increased injuries."
So while this is great news for kids, what does it mean for us parents?
Well, it means we have to work out how to let go. We have to work out how to allow our kids to climb right to the top of that climbing frame without hovering under them imploring them to come back. We need to let them slide down the biggest slide keeping our silent prayers they will make it just that – silent. We need to allow our kids to explore and take chances and navigate the world as kids, not as precious dolls wrapped in cottonwood.
As playgrounds get riskier it means we mums have to take a risk.
But will we?
Dr Eager, associate professor of Engineering at the University of Technology, in Sydney told News Limited that children need to be given opportunities to engage in activities where they will be able to learn from their mistakes.
“It’s OK if your children have an accident,” he urges us.
Now it’s just up to us to believe him.
Do you find it hard to let go and allow your kids to play on the risky equipment?