Making Playgrounds a Little More Dangerous - The New York Times
“Sometimes parents hover by the fence and watch their kids like animals in a zoo,” said Rebecca Faulkner, the executive director of play:groundNYC, the nonprofit that runs The Yard, which opened in 2016. “I tell them, ‘You don’t need to worry, you don’t need to tell them what to do. Just sit back and relax.’”
Children are better at figuring out how to have fun than many adults who build playgrounds for them, Ms. Faulkner said. And they can also figure out how to play safely — even in a place that looks more like a junkyard than a playground.
“We’ve had our share of bruises and scrapes,” she said. “But we’ve never had a serious injury.”
Joey’s father, Christopher Gunderson, a sociology professor at Howard University, watched the action with other parents from a lawn chair outside the playground. “Kids grow up in these really controlled environments,” he said. “This is a place where they can run wild.”
“Play nowadays is totally structured,” Joey’s grandfather, Fred Klonsky, a retired elementary school teacher, chimed in. “They play organized sports supervised by adults, even their disputes are settled by adults. Kids used to work all that stuff out themselves.”
The Danish landscape architect Carl Theodor Sorensen was bothered by the same trends over 70 years ago. He noticed that children in Copenhagen during World War II preferred to play in abandoned lots and construction sites than on the well-appointed asphalt playgrounds that had been built for them.
This daredevil behavior born of frustration is a main cause of playground accidents, said Mariana Brussoni, a scientist with the Child & Family Research Institute in Vancouver, British Columbia.
“I came to the counterintuitive conclusion that engaging in risk is actually very important in preventing injuries,” said Dr. Brussoni, who conducted a systematic review of the scientific literature on playground safety in 2015. “Children are learning how their bodies work, how the world works,” she said. “They are learning fundamental skills that ultimately protect them.”
And there appear to be social gains as well.
A 2017 randomized controlled trial conducted in New Zealand found that children (ages 6 through 9) who participated in what the researchers called “free range play” were happier at school, more engaged with other children and less likely to report being bullied during recess than those whose play time was more structured.
Still, many parents remain wary.
“People perceive that the world is getting more dangerous. Parental fears are on the rise,” Dr. Brussoni said. She speculated that it was fueled by media attention to child kidnappings and other crimes. Yet “the data shows that it has never been a safer time to be a child,” she said — a contention backed up by a 2016 report by the Department of Justice.