I remember the first thing I Googled after moving to Wayne: “Best Playground on the Main Line.” Haverford Freedom Playground came up first, so we took a much-needed break from unpacking and hopped in the car. On the way over I could tell my husband was nervous. I knew what he was thinking: Would this new playground in this new town be safe enough for our precious daughters? (Several months pregnant with our third child, I was just hoping for a bench in the shade.) When we arrived, he visibly relaxed: No high drop-offs, fenced in and a cushiony rubber surface to boot. We were golden! (In his defense, our middle daughter fractured her foot at one playground and fell from a high ledge at another—memories that still make me shudder.)
Since then we’ve found other Main Line playgrounds that my husband approves of and the kids love. But last weekend I read this article in the New York Times, which made me wonder if safe playgrounds help or harm our children. Across Britain, schools and public parks have reconstructed their playgrounds to encourage risk. Preschool-aged kids play among stacks of two-by-fours, loose bricks, mud pits, log stumps and workbenches with hammers and saws. One researcher conducted a study comparing these “risk-friendly” playgrounds with American parks and found that British playgrounds had 55 percent more visitors over all, and children and teenagers were 16 to 18 percent more active. The elements kids loved the most—like high swings and climbing structures—are rarely found in American playgrounds due to high maintenance costs and the risk of falls. (The article also cited America’s highly litigious culture.) So maybe a jaunt overseas is in our future? Not on my husband’s watch.
PS. Forest kindergartens in Germany!
Playground Hopping around the Main Line:
• Haverford Freedom Playground, Haverford
• Clem Macrone Park, Rosemont
• Ashbridge Memorial Park, Bryn Mawr
• Smith Memorial Playground, Philadelphia
• Wilson Farm Park, Wayne