Is a Little Danger Good for Playgrounds?

New research in child development is giving rise to playgrounds designed to build children's confidence in facing challenges and evaluating risk, Sumathi Reddy reports.
November 24, 2012, 9am PST | Ryan Lue
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Carl Wycoff

Ask any American, anywhere in the country, what a playground looks like, and you'll likely hear the same thing: A swingset, a slide, a set of monkeybars. Now, child development experts are challenging our idea of what makes a healthy, productive play environment for our children.

Conventional playgrounds, the argument goes, offer little room for healthy risktaking in play. When playground equipment is reduced to a safe space for children to run around in, it becomes a way to pass the time, rather than a place for children to challenge themselves and learn to overcome their fears. "The result," writes Reddy, "is that children are less compelled to play outside, potentially stunting emotional and physical development and exacerbating a nationwide epidemic of childhood obesity."

In response, cities across the country are turning to new trends in stimulating playgrounds that have already taken root in Germany, Norway, and England. From Atlanta to Boston to Memphis to Saratoga Springs, Utah, communities are installing ziplines, climbing nets, and other such "risky" equipment, seizing on the idea that "encouraging free play, in an age of structured activities and computer games, is... important in helping children develop physical and cognitive competencies, creativity and self-worth."

"'It's important that play environments are as safe as necessary, not as safe as possible,' said [Ellen Sandseter of Queen Maud University College of Early Childhood Education in Norway], adding that broken and fractured arms and legs shouldn't be considered serious injuries."

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Published on Monday, November 19, 2012 in The Wall Street Journal
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