Sunday, July 24, 2011

Nearly Extinct: The Jungle Gym

A few days after I wrote about my family’s trip to the ER, a story by John Tierney in The New York Times, “Grasping Risk in Life’s Classroom” sent the clear message that it was time to head back to the playground. Never mind that most of my children’s boo boo’s have occurred at home, the real point of the article was that taking risks at the playground, especially by climbing high, had an “anti-phobic effect.”

Doorknobs in my book are still wily little devices, but monkey bars? Evidently, letting a child test her skills and assess her own ability ten feet off the ground was just the thing.

“Risky play mirrors effective cognitive behavioral therapy of anxiety,” the article states, quoting an article by Dr. Ellen Sandseter and Leif Kennair that was published in the journal Evolutionary Psychology.

The psychologists conclude: Paradoxically, we posit that our fear of children being harmed by mostly harmless injuries may result in more fearful children and increased levels of psychopathology.

One object that has been a casualty in the controversial attempts to make playgrounds safer, the article notes, is the classic jungle gym. And its absence is what I noticed most when I returned to the playground scene with my own kids after a twenty year hiatus. Decades of transformation had driven my favorite feature to near extinction.


Not only had there been “parental concerns, federal guidelines, new safety standards set by manufacturers,” but there was also what Tierney describes as the “most frequently cited factors—fear of lawsuits.”

I decided to take a look at the playgrounds in my area in a quixotic search for the Mount Olympus of my youth, an old fashioned jungle gym.  Perhaps someday we will make a pilgrimage to one of the few parks in New York City whose classic jungle gyms have been preserved, but in the meantime, we took advantage of the heat advisory and dearth of activity at the playgrounds to capture some early morning images.

Along the way, we discovered one place of play whose potential for risk and adventure has remained untouched.

If the video does not load, you can find it on the Lunchboxmom YouTube channel by clicking here.


Tim Morrissey said...

Another thought-provoking post with a charming video. At some point, when assesing risk for our children, we must not take counsel of our worst fears, I guess....

Liz said...

I read that article too and also realized that none of our playgrounds have jungle gyms. I guess I'm going to have to let my 7 year old climb on the top of the playset in our backyard even though it scares me.....

Anonymous said...

I was wondering if the Lunchbox Mom could post where that impressive new playground could be found!?

Lunch Box Mom said...

The impressive playground in in Hopewell Borough, NJ--in a park next to the post office--and it's a great story because the MOMS club of Hopewell did so much to get it built.

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