Thursday, January 24, 2013

Parks vs. Playgrounds

Most of my friends know how I feel about playgrounds. In fact, it's a running joke now whenever a new article or post is written by another mom about how they shudder at the thought of taking their children to a playground.  Well, I figured it was time I articulated my feelings and sentiments.  Today, was the perfect day for this.

In the last few months we've been frequenting both playgrounds, and wide open spaces for hikes such as parks and canyons.  Even during our holiday travels we managed to squeeze both in checking out the newer designs of "natural" playgrounds, and Texas trails which included 2 live armadillos.
We even had a white Christmas which was a lot of fun for the kids.

So, what's my beef with the playground?  I'll get right to it.  4 years ago when I had my first, and I was more of a sensitive mom, attending to her needs and listening to the chatter, I felt as though I was not attentive enough by the other moms' standards.  I didn't hold her hand the entire time, I didn't help her down the slide, I would feel eyes on me questioning if I was the nanny or the mom.  I didn't care, but it got to me.  Besides, that, I was frustrated in having to explain that I didn't have to clap each time my child came down the slide (even thought I was elated on the inside- at first), I didn't want to fall pray to the continuous praise of "good job," "you can do it," and my all time favorite "share".  I grew tired of the same structures, the same routine, and the exhaustion of being on guard.  It was nice to let me husband go with her and for me to stay home.  Somehow, I don't think Dads get this feeling.

Anyway, rather than focusing on this, let me tell you why I prefer the unstructured parks.  In an open space where things aren't orderly and organized by age or skill level, a child must figure it out for themselves.  Today when my 2 year old and I went on a hike, I was reminded of this.  You see, at their height, and still introduction to this world, all things present a challenge.  Each one unique and one that develops strength, agility, and eventually mastery.  When we decided to climb the small rocks and boulders, she approached them with caution, looking back at me and reaching out for my hand while still clutching to her apple slice with the other.  As much as I wanted to talk and explain and tell her things, I recalled Rachel Carson's wisdom "it is not half so important to know as to feel.  If the facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow."  It's far more important for us to allow children to explore nature with their emotions than for us to teach them at these moments. At this time, it was far more important that my daughter come to realize she needed both her hands, her balance, how to use her feet to guide her over each rock and boulder, to examine that each one was different in shape and size, when to go over and when to go around.  The lessons that nature presented in this small patch of rocks allowed for her to develop far greater skills than any "structured" playground could offer.

These days, all playgrounds are void of rocks and boulder, of tree limbs to climb on, pebbles to fall and feel.  Instead their senses are refined through synthetic tactile experiences.  The feeling of falling on rubber or mulch.  The foamy squishy stuff where you don't get cuts and scrapes.  The "natural" plastic trees and painted branches and nylon ropes to climb and swing on.  Don't get me wrong, as cynical as I am about this, I'm also glad that playgrounds are being updated and a bit more thought and care are put into it.  I'm just trying to also say that this is not enough.  These experiences are not real, and for a child we must give them what is real from the start so they can experience it fully and understand the consequences of nature as well.  Falling from a plastic log onto a rubber mat is not the same as falling from a tree limb onto rocks and pebbles, or mud.  They way in which the body feels this fall is quite different.  (btw, I'm not advocating to let your child fall and get hurt, but if it needs to happen, well...).

When is the last time you as an adult climbed a tree and took a look at the world from that perspective, when did you hike over boulders and realize you foot slipping in that fine sand between your rubber sole and the rock.  This past weekend, we went camping and did quite a bit of hiking with the kids.  Both my husband and I put ourselves in a position where we were off the trial and on boulders and rocks and having to have our knee up by our ear to climb over something.  The perspective this gave me as an adult and how we need to continually challenge ourselves and our bodies was thrilling.  We truly need to get off the beaten path often and frequently if we are to raise our children to do the same in nature and in their lives. 

A few pictures from this weekend (a whole post on that coming soon):

Few more pictures from this morning:

shared on: small family footprint, Sunday Parenting party, wildcrafting wednesday, simple lives thursdays,  fresh eggs daily, Wildlife Wednesdays, Fresh Bites Friday, Wednesday Fresh Food  hip homeschool moms,  Living Green Tuesday, Outdoor Play, Mums make lists


  1. I also remember in the movie Mother Nature’s Child, how it explained that ply structures are so predictable that children, don't have to think about their movements. I love that you advocate for children in nature. How will they learn to protect nature if they are not exposed to it? One of the reason I moved here was that in Paris there was not much option, except leaving town on the week-end, here with the beach, canyons, dessert, mountains etc. we are blessed.

    1. Thank you. This has always been one of my greatest passions, even more so than cooking. I think too many children have not experienced the joys of nature and just allowing them the opportunity to experience it will give them the desire to protect it. We wouldn't want any harm to come to our family or home, so if children learn to love nature in that manner, they will learn to fight for it as well.

  2. what a great post. I quite like both parks and playgrounds (anywhere outdoors) but I totally get your reasoning behind the playground thing. I'm sharing this on our SPP pinterest board and featuring on this Sunday's Parenting Party (you can grab an "i was featured" button from my button page if you'd like one). Thanks

  3. I love this - thank you for sharing on Wildlife Wednesday!

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