There was a park and a small playground behind the house that I grew up in. It was a typical playground of the 60’s and 70’s: Swings, see saws, and a free-standing slide. I loved this playground; I spent endless hours swinging on the swings when the swings weren’t twisted around the top crosser (good thing I had an older brother who could shimmy up the posts and untangle the swing chains –I’m not kidding). I never got sick of climbing the ladder of the slide, standing on the top to feel the height (at least 8′), and then sliding down to a pit of worn out gravel. The pit seemed so inevitable at the time (now there are all kinds of ways retain adequate surfacing at the end of slides and under swings).
*See Saw picture from Wikipedia, from a park in Montreal.
I liked the see saw but very much disliked the bang I felt when my partner jumped off unsuspectingly (side note: I went on the Rodeo see saw a few weeks ago at a local park. My partner on the see saw was close to my weight, so that was a good start, and the bounce on the stopper below the seat was really soft and nice. No longer do I fear the bang of the sea saw).
Then one day a new play structure appeared -it could have grown out of the ground for all I knew about playgrounds, they just seemed to appear. It looked like so much fun! I remember it exactly: it was wooden with two slides (one short, 4′ high and one higher, 6′) with a bridge connecting the two slide platforms, a few different ways of climbing to and from the platforms and a tire swing attached to the side (which really dates this since swings/tire swings are not allowed to be attached to structures now).
After a few weeks of climbing the structure, my interest started to wane. Mostly I used the platforms to pretend I was on a boat or in a house but initial excitement of climbing the static ladders or stairs to the platform was lost. The tire swing, on the other hand, never got old. Would I sit or lie in it? Maybe stand and swing it with the pushing of my legs. I could spin, swing, spin and swing, use it by myself or with many others; it was endless. Looking back I realize why parts of the playground became so boring. There was no drive or interest in doing those things which I had accomplished a million times already; interest remains when there is movement or an additional challenge.
*I love this video because it really shows how children can use the equipment in different ways depending on their ability and comfort level (Please note: resilient surfacing is required in America; these videos were taken in Europe).
Equipment that can move is different from static play elements because it can be used and manipulated in countless ways. When I pump my legs back and forth on a swing I’m trying to get higher or swing faster and it feels exhilarating. I can control the speed of a standing spinner by pulling in and pushing out my body. Every time I make something move I’m experimenting with the effect of my actions and challenging myself to the next level and it feels good. How could this experience, that feels continuously new and fresh, get boring? It never did. I would still like to jump on a wobbly bridge, slide down a long slide and sway on something like the Grass (the swings make me a little sea sick now). One of the fun aspects of being human is experiencing how your body works and moves with and around other objects.
Would you like to experience the movement of the playground again? What is your go-to piece of playground equipment? Or is there some other physical activity that brings you joy and challenge? I love to dance and to spin around the dance floor. Rick loves to play squash. And what about you?
P.S. I don’t want to downplay the importance of climbing structure, I just want to remind us all of the importance of moving equipment on playgrounds. More can always be said but let’s leave that for another blog entry! 🙂