Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Deciding We'll Just Have To Be Careful

I don't know who hung the rope ladder from the swing set. It used to be tied to a tree trunk at the top of the smaller of our two concrete slopes. It was one of several ways kids could move from the lower level of our outdoor classroom to the top.

When I arrived on the morning of the first day of our summer program, I found it hanging there and my first instinct was to find fault with it. For one thing, not knowing who did it, how was I to know those knots were secure? And isn't it too close to the swings on either side? And aren't we going to miss having it in the old spot?

I guess those are the fundamental fears of conservatism: that change, whatever it is, won't work, that it will in fact be dangerous, and oh how we'll miss the olden days. I'm not talking about politics, but rather the kind of personal conservatism so many of us fall into as we get older, the knee-jerk reaction against things that aren't the way they always were.

I hadn't allowed myself a lot of extra time, but took a moment to test it for myself. It held my weight, although I didn't really dig on the swinging action so much. I tried making it go side-to-side, trying to entangle it with the chains of the swings on either side, but I couldn't.

Without evidence, I was still sure it was somehow unsafe, but at least I'd demonstrated it wasn't manifestly so, and those knots looked like they'd take awhile to untie, not to mention the time it would take to round up the step ladder. I decided to leave it for the time being if only because I had so much else I needed to do before the kids arrived. And besides, one of the parents would likely point the danger out to me, which would provide the impetus to returning it to where it belonged on the face of the lesser of our concrete slopes. They would say, "That looks dangerous," and I would reply, "I wondered about that?" then we would take it down.

I guess that's the fundamental modus operandi of laziness: that change, whatever it is, can be put off until someone or something else makes it absolutely necessary. I'm not talking about sloth, but rather the kind of personal laziness that so many of us fall into as we get older, the certain knowledge that the onus for change never need fall exclusively on oneself, but rather can wait until others are clamoring for it too. Then you can answer, "Good idea. Would you mind taking care of it?"

So I left it there, my laziness outweighing, I suppose, my conservatism, expecting that it would need to come down, but no one said anything that first day. A few of the kids asked, "What's this ladder doing here?" and some tried to climb it. Charlotte was the first to make it to the top, standing on the uppermost rung, swinging carefully.

The ladder swing made it though the entire first week and it's still there so far this week. We did figure out that if a kid sits on the top rung and really gets the thing swinging, the bottom part of the ladder kicks out and could potentially knock someone in the head, but that's not a whole lot different than the hazard of any swing, so, you know, instead of taking the whole thing down, we've decided we just have to be careful.

I don't know if it's here to stay, but it's now got me thinking about what else we could hang from there.

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Unknown said...

Hello Teacher Tom, have not visited your blog in quite some time, it was nice to read your post on this early sunny San Francisco morning. Keep up the good blogging! cheers, Nadia, pre-k teacher in SF

Males in Early Childhood said...

It's funny you should be talking about this topic as my latest post touches on this very thing. Your voice would be invaluable to the discussion if you'd care to add it. The fear of children taking risks is often seated in our own inablity to adjust to change. Change in approaches; change in attitudes; change in practice; change in regulations.

I had a discussion today with a colleague about why the children aren't allowed to use 'guns' in their play. This followed the Director telling the children they're not allowed. Her response was that it's a rule and has always been a rule. When questioned further she began to justify it then that moment clicked in when I think she realised that she didn't truly believe what she was saying, rather she was spouting out someone else's mantra that had been drilled into her.

I wish we were all as reflective and self effacing as you Tom :)

Lizapest said...

The child care I work with is highly governmentally subsidized and there is not a chance we would ever be allowed to have a swing set, let alone a rope ladder hanging from it. We have been conditioned to see the worst case scenario and often forget that the probability is so slight it is almost laughable.
After 20 years in my career I have seen so many changes, some good some... not so much. It is shocking to see pictures of what we did back then and what we wouldn't dream of doing now. Sometimes I wonder if we are doing our children a disservice by not allowing them to take calculated risks. My parents rarely knew where I was between the hours of 9AM and 6PM during the summer, we were free to explore the neighbourhood and all it had to offer. Now parents justify sitting children in front of TVs and computers by saying "At least I know where they are and they are safe"
I am a big jealous of you and "your" children, it looks like so much fun.

Anonymous said...

We've had great fun taking our swings down and hanging a small wooden ladder in various ways from the swing set (vertically and horizontally, higher and lower). Yes it does require adult supervision but our parents are happy to do so when they see how much fun and learning goes on.