Can a Playground Be Too Safe?

May 10, 2013

Seesaws, tall slides and monkey bars are disappearing from playgrounds. They are being replaced by 'Safety-first' playgrounds.

At first thought this seems like a natural and correct evolution, and certainly not an issue of debate, and I imagine that parents who have had to deal with concussions and broken arms wouldn’t agree that playgrounds have become too safe.

But according to many psychologists worldwide, the issue is not that clear-cut. They argue that even if children do suffer fewer physical injuries — and the evidence for that is debatable — the critics say that these playgrounds may stunt emotional development, leaving children with anxieties and fears that are ultimately worse than a broken bone.

Dr Sandseter from Queen Maud University in Norway believes that, “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 goes on to say, "Children approach thrills and risks in a progressive manner, and very few children would try to climb to the highest point the first time they climb. The best thing is to let children encounter these challenges from an early age, and they will then progressively learn to master them through their play over the years.”

The good news is that manufacturers have brought out new versions of the old toys, and the ten feet high monkey bars are back with the ground below now covered by a soft rubber surface.

Think back to your own childhood. Was there anything more thrilling or satisfying than finally finding the courage to go the top step of the tallest slide? We can't wrap our children in cotton-batten. Well supervised low risk activities help children face danger and overcome it; an essential lesson for life.