Human-Behavi English
2018-03-16 00:00:00
Vittorio Hernandez

Many parents are extreme worriers when it comes to their children’s safety in the playground. However, a growing number of parents in Britain are thinking otherwise.

They want their kids who play in playgrounds to be exposed to some kind of risks, according to a New York Times article. Among the changes that Briton parents want to see in the future are the erection of handmade play equipment such as 20-foot climbing towers, for spiky gorse bushes to be left intact, and for children to be allowed to play with knives, saws, and other tools as well as to build fires in the play area as long as they are supervised.

Building resilience and grit

The parents criticized the use of plastic play structures in US playgrounds which coddle kids with less-than-challenging play equipment. They want their children to instead build resilience and grit.

The model for a playground with risks is at the Princess Diana Playground in Kensington Garden in London. The playground has a sign that informs parents that the operators of the place intentionally provided risks. The rationale behind it is for the child to develop an appreciation of risk in a controlled play environment instead of taking risks in an uncontrolled and unregulated wider world.

There are now communities in Australia, Sweden, and Canada that followed the footsteps of the London playground and initiated similar changes. These changes are in line with the free-range child movement in the US wherein elementary age school children are encouraged to take walks in nature, ride public transportation on their own, and get outside, stay active, and acquire independent skills.

Those in favor of such an upbringing argue that kids are given a chance by the risky activities to develop confidence and competence as they master challenges, National Public Radio reported.

Part of primate heritage

Nga Nguyen, a behavior biologist at the University of California-Fullerton, said that risk and risky play, in particular, is a vital part of the animal/primate heritage of humans. By engaging with risks, or any unfamiliar or uncomfortable situation in the context of play, people learn how to use their bodies safely to interact with the physical and social challenges in the environment.

Primates, among mammals, have unusually long juvenile periods. The relatively slow pace of development gives the youth time to acquire the skills they need to be successful as adult members of their societies, Nguyen said.

But one of the things that immature primates must learn is successfully coping with and navigating the physical and social challenges present in the world. They must learn how to balance on a log and to respond properly to the friendly, or not-so-friendly gestures of other animals.

Bringing in the risk

The movement in Britain started around four years ago. For instance, teachers at the Richmond Avenue Primary and Nursery School threw out the plastic playhouses and brought in stacks of two-by-fours, crates, and loose bricks. They are got for the schoolyard a mud pit, tire swing, log stumps, and workbenches with hammers and saws.

Experts see exposure to limited risks as an experience essential to childhood development as well as useful in building grit and resilience. More British government officials are supporting the move. One of them is Amanda Spielman, the chief inspector of Ofsted, the agency that inspects British schools.

She previously made fun of the excessive risk aversion of British schools. Spielman cited barmy measures such as sending students out on city field trips wearing high-visibility jackets. In 2017, Spielman said that the inspectors of Ofsted would go through training to encompass both the negative and positive side of risk.

Spielman said that it is OK to have some risk of kids falling over and bashing into things. It is not the same as being reckless and sending a two-year-old to walk on the edge of a 200-foot cliff unaccompanied.

Sanitized out of the playgrounds

Meghan Talarowski, the director and founder of Studio Ludo, a nonprofit based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, agreed with the Britons that risk is actually an incredibly important aspect of development and was sanitized out of the playgrounds. A certified playground safety inspector, Talarowski stressed that she is not advocating for dropping hazards into existing playgrounds, CTV reported.

She explained that this is about creating a structured environment to teach the kids about risk as they learn skills to grow into adulthood. Talarowski acknowledged that playgrounds were initially conceived as a safe place where kids can play. However, as rounded plastic and concrete surfaces replace the towering wooden structure, many of the playgrounds have become too safe.

She pointed out that it explains why six- or seven-year-old kids are seldom seen now in playgrounds. It is because they find other things, such as screen time, as more fun. Talarowski cited results of her studies that noticed kids climbing on and around playground structures out of boredom in a way that the designers did not intend. She said children will always find a way but adults have to always be a step ahead of them and provide the youth spaces they will naturally gravitate towards.

[researchpaper 리서치페이퍼= Vittorio Hernandez 기자]

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