Why is the UK Making Playgrounds Dangerous Again?

At the Princess Diana playground in Kensington Gardens, London, a sign lets parents know that risks are “intentionally provided, so that your child can develop an appreciation of risk in a controlled play environment rather than taking similar risks in an uncontrolled and unregulated wider world.” Children here can play in a mud pit, collect logs and build houses, and explore a workbench complete with hammers and saws.

Educators in Britain and the U.S. have worked to minimize risk for decades, but now that seems to be changing, as a recent New York Times feature highlights

In Shoeburyness, an English town about an hour’s drive north east of London, administrators at the Richmond Avenue Primary and Nursery School decided four years ago to get rid of the plastic playhouses.

“We thought, how can we bring that element of risk into your everyday environment?” said Leah Morris, who manages the early years program at the school. “We were looking at., O.K., so we’ve got a sand pit, what can we add to make it more risky?”

She adds that now “we have fires, we use knives, saws, different tools,” although they are all of course used under adult supervision.

U.K. educators didn’t always think like that. In the 1970s, after parents were warned about dangerous playgrounds, they evolved to become safer places. Certain fixtures — like steel merry-go-rounds — disappeared, and rubber surfaces were added to floors, to make sure little kids didn’t hurt themselves. 

Meghan Talarowski, an American landscape designer, told the New York Times, “It’s a rubber floor, a little structure surrounded by a fence, it’s like a little play jail.” 

In the U.S., Lenore Skenazy came up with free-range parenting in 2008, the concept of raising children in the spirit of encouraging them to function independently and with little parental supervision, in accordance of their age of development and with a reasonable acceptance of personal risks. 

This happened after she let her nine-year-old son ride the New York subway alone. She wrote about it and two days later found herself decried as “America’s worst mom” on the “Today” show, MSNBC, Fox News and NPR. 

Skenazy has since written a book: Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry, and has a blog that repeats the same message: Parents, stop helicoptering your kids. Let them go!

Children need to be able to get out and explore independently in order to grow. Here’s how Skenazy explains this:

“I LOVE safety — helmets, car seats, safety belts. I believe in teaching children how to cross the street and even wave their arms to be noticed. I’m a safety geek! But I also believe our kids do not need a security detail every time they leave the house. Our kids are safer than we think, and more competent, too. They deserve a chance to stretch and grow and do what we did — stay out till the street lights come on.”

The U.K.’s decision to make children’s playgrounds more challenging has already begun to take hold in the U.S. So-called ‘adventure playgrounds’ contain moveable parts like boxes, paint, hammers and tree branches that children can use to build whatever grabs their imagination, and then tear it all apart again. They are encouraged to take risks, in order to develop patience and problem-solving skills.

The best known in the U.S. is New York City’s playground.

Educators: recognize that youngsters need to be able to confront risk in their lives in order to grow. Let the children play!

Photo Credit: Judy Molland

60 comments

Marie W
Marie W12 days ago

Thanks

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christine s
christine s4 months ago

I agree with Rosslyn 100%.

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Chad Anderson
Chad Anderson5 months ago

Thank you.

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Carl R
Carl R5 months ago

Thanks!

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Rosslyn O
Rosslyn O5 months ago

Hanging an old tire from a tree for our swing, swinging from a rope out over the river, swimming before we could even walk properly, riding our bikes to school 5 miles to and from, building cubby houses were all the fun things we did as children. My eldest grandchildren were so molly coddled with these stupid safety laws, and it till reflects on them today. Thank goodness my son and his wife are about adventure and their children are brought up like I did for them...be adventurist!

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Lesa D
Lesa D6 months ago

playgrounds everywhere are dangerous... i clearly remember falling off the monkey bars on my head in the third grade & in the fourth grade i suffered repeated blows to the head on a near daily basis while playing tetherball...

clearly i am NOT an athelete!

thank you Judy...

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John B
John B6 months ago

Thanks Judy for sharing the info and the great links.

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Ruth S
Ruth S6 months ago

I grew up on a farm and had very few traditional toys. We had to use our imagination. We played in mud puddles, made mud pies, "sewed" leaves together with sticks to make "quilts", climbed trees, played with farm animals, and friends over to our home to play, usually outside. I never lacked in ability in school, even thru college, or in social skills. Today's kids are flooded with toys, many with electronics. Too many kids are behind in learning basic skills such as speech development and socialization.

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Sheila C
Sheila C6 months ago

Good to read that some sense is returning!

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Winn A
Winn A6 months ago

Wow

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