The Rules of the Playground

One of the biggest culture shocks upon reentry into American life after three years abroad, was following the rules of the playground. I remember my first playground trip in Austin, Texas. I stood there perplexed by the actions of moms and the looks I got by not “abiding by” whatever inferred rules there were. Things were a bit better when I arrived in Reston, Virginia. But today, upon visiting a new playground in McLean, I was remembering the days a year ago when I just stood in the mulch wondering how I missed the memo.

First of all, my only experiences, up until a year ago were overseas. In Qatar, the rules were, there were no rules. Kids ran around and if you were lucky you might find a mom or caregiver somewhere within 20 yards. In Sweden, the play was more organized free play. Kids seem to know what was acceptable and moms sat out of the way of play, but within good sprinting distance to save a child or break up a fight. Generally, kids were left to climb, play, swing, run around, argue, etc. on their own with little interference from mom or dad. I find this to be the best rule of playground play.

It’s a playground and kids are there to, well, play. Telling kids to not jump, climb or yell seems to defeat the purpose of going to the playground. Well, today in McLean, I watched not one, but five parents run interference with their kids so much that I was annoyed to be there. Little Susie was praised for not only walking up the steps so beautifully (she was about 2), but for playing very well on the train. Twin boys Peter and John, also two, had dad within arm distance narrating every move they made and making them do what he instructed. Another dad kept insisting that his son stop yelling “choo choo” on the train. This irritated me, so we left.

Suggested playground rules:

Kids should be able to run and jump and climb on whatever is safe for their age and ability.

If kids have squabbles, they should be able to work it out for themselves (throwing mulch, etc.) Let them at least try to work it out.

It is OK for kids to climb up the slide if no one else is on it. I don’t under why parents insist this is a no-no.

Kid may yell or scream if they want to.

No pushing or biting other kids.

Moms should be allowed to sit and rest on the park bench or chat with friends at least 10 feet from their kids if the kids are able on the equipment. Moms need a break when the kids play.


purplemommy said...

I agree. Way too much hovering on playgrounds. Even with Max at age 5 I find other mothers trying to moderate the play which then makes me feel like I need to step in as well. Since I only have experience here in the US I would say Seattle contains the same amount of "helicopter" parents and Durham, NC much less so. (Yes, I'm obsessed with other people's blogs, expect comments.)

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. I'm so glad I found this blog! I have two little ones myself and enjoy reading your experiences. Please keep blogging!!!

Ariel said...

I'm one of those parents :). If I sit on the bench, my kid just sits on the bench next to me. So I do my darndest to try to get her to climb on the equiment, which means I make a huge deal every time she does anything. But otherwise she wouldn't even try- she seems to find the whole thing a little intimidating. I couldn't even get her to climb the steps to the slide until she was past 2.

I'm sure all the parents at the park thought my husband and I had lost our minds the other day when we jumped up and down and cheered because she climbed two steps on the ladder ;).

Anonymous said...

I agree with everything you've written except the slide thing. I tell my children they can't climb up the slide b/c of safety issues. They ar too young right now to understand "it's OK sometimes", plus what about those slides where they can't see top and/or know if someone is coming down (like tube slides, etc). So, I find it easier and safer to say "no climbing up slides" period. There are so many other things for them to climb on.
Other than that, I agree, kids should be kids and be able to run, jump etc.