If you’ve ever been on a U.S. playground, you know one of the biggest controversies is this: should kids be allowed to go up the slide? The fact the question exists at all shows there’s a split between what’s good for kids and what’s good for parents. In most cases it’s not about safety, it’s about parental pressure — judging, social pressure exerted from one parent (typically a stranger) to another.
Isn’t that odd, that in the realm of children’s play, it matters more what the other adults think?
I know how harsh the bad looks can be. I’m one of those parents who lets the kids climb up the slide. Why? Because it’s healthy play, full of adventure, risk, and sometimes peer negotiation. It also does no harm. It follows the golden renegade rule:
It’s OK if it’s not hurting people or property.
Kids going up a slide giggle. They feel powerful. They gain balance, spatial awareness, and yes, social awareness. If a conflict comes up — between the kids not the parents — kids typically resolve it as part of the game’s flow.
The typical American playground is static. The swings are fun, and going up and down the slide is fun, but there’s nothing to move or create or build. Scattered around the world are adventure playgrounds, including this one recently featured in The Atlantic, which gives kids lots to play with — including fire.
So if you don’t have a fire-burning, saw-cutting, water-splashing, junk-filled playground near your house, what do you do? Some ideas:
- Relax the parents around you. Say something out loud that other adults can hear. “It’s OK with me if they go up.” or “Seems as if they’re doing fine.”
- Address the concern. “Looks as if you’re worried about something. What’s your concern?” Chances are the kids themselves can problem-solve and fix it.
- Point out observations to your kids. ”It’s crowded today. Looks as if the slide’s only for going down right now.”
- Go somewhere else. Modern playgrounds are not particularly interesting places to play. You can’t move the pieces. There are too many judging eyes and safety rules. Skip the official ‘playground’ and find some water. Throw stones. Wade. Go to the woods and whack sticks or build a tree fort. Balance on logs. Pick up logs and heave them about. Maybe you’ll even find a salamander.
What do you think? Have you ever been caught in the slide dilemma? Is it more about you and other adults, or is it about children’s play? Know any great playgrounds?