Editorīs Note from Shelly Phillips: I love the way that Teacher Tom considers the possibility that he’s being overly cautious before moving the rope ladder that someone has tied to the swing set. Sure, it might be dangerous, but children have an instinct to survive just as we all do. When Tom notices his desire to move the “dangerous” rope ladder, he first tests the strength of the knots and then waits to see if the children WANT to move it or leave it. I think this article is a great reminder to all of us to take a moment and check in before moving or changing something just because we think it could potentially be dangerous. How will children ever learn their own safety boundaries if we’re constantly keeping them in overly safe environments? Let’s just all decide to be careful, instead of removing opportunities to move and play in new ways.
I don’t know who hung the rope ladder from the swing set. It used to be tied to a tree trunk at the top of the smaller of our two concrete slopes. It was one of several ways kids could move from the lower level of our outdoor classroom to the top.
When I arrived on the morning of the first day of our summer program, I found it hanging there and my first instinct was to find fault with it. For one thing, not knowing who did it, how was I to know those knots were secure? And isn’t it too close to the swings on either side? And aren’t we going to miss having it in the old spot?
I guess those are the fundamental fears of conservatism: that change, whatever it is, won’t work, that it will in fact be dangerous, and oh how we’ll miss the olden days. I’m not talking about politics, but rather the kind of personal conservatism so many of us fall into as we get older, the knee-jerk reaction against things that aren’t the way they always were.
I hadn’t allowed myself a lot of extra time, but took a moment to test it for myself. It held my weight, although I didn’t really dig on the swinging action so much. I tried making it go side-to-side, trying to entangle it with the chains of the swings on either side, but I couldn’t.
Without evidence, I was still sure it was somehow unsafe, but at least I’d demonstrated it wasn’t manifestly so, and those knots looked like they’d take awhile to untie, not to mention the time it would take to round up the step ladder. I decided to leave it for the time being if only because I had so much else I needed to do before the kids arrived. And besides, one of the parents would likely point the danger out to me, which would provide the impetus to returning it to where it belonged on the face of the lesser of our concrete slopes. They would say, “That looks dangerous,” and I would reply, “I wondered about that?” then we would take it down.
I guess that’s the fundamental modus operandi of laziness: that change, whatever it is, can be put off until someone or something else makes it absolutely necessary. I’m not talking about sloth, but rather the kind of personal laziness that so many of us fall into as we get older, the certain knowledge that the onus for change never need fall exclusively on oneself, but rather can wait until others are clamoring for it too. Then you can answer, “Good idea. Would you mind taking care of it?”
So I left it there, my laziness outweighing, I suppose, my conservatism, expecting that it would need to come down, but no one said anything that first day. A few of the kids asked, “What’s this ladder doing here?” and some tried to climb it. Charlotte was the first to make it to the top, standing on the uppermost rung, swinging carefully.
The ladder swing made it though the entire first week and it’s still there so far this week. We did figure out that if a kid sits on the top rung and really gets the thing swinging, the bottom part of the ladder kicks out and could potentially knock someone in the head, but that’s not a whole lot different than the hazard of any swing, so, you know, instead of taking the whole thing down, we’ve decided we just have to be careful.
I don’t know if it’s here to stay, but it’s now got me thinking about what else we could hang from there.