Monday, November 14, 2016

Without Wrecking The Fun

When our school moved into its current location, it came with a swing set. It was about this time that playgrounds around the country were removing their old sets over safety concerns and there was some talk about whether or not we should keep it, but it didn't take much research on our part to realize that there was little more than "catastrophic thinking" behind the removal trend. Like so many things related to children and education, adults had allowed themselves to envision the worst case scenario, freaked out about it, then sought to "protect" kids from their imaginations.

We've been living with our swing set now for six years. There have been a few minor bumps and bruises, of course. They're children at play after all and most things they do can result in bumps and bruises. Indeed, that's one of the primary functions of childhood play: to give children an opportunity to learn, through experience, how to keep themselves safe, and part of that learning comes in the form of bumps and bruises.

We've never felt a need to create any particular rules around the swing set, even as we were tempted during our early years of living with it. We saw that the children figure out very quickly that they needed to be on their toes when playing around the swings, especially if one of the big kids who has learned to "pump" is on there.

A couple years ago, we added our pallet swing. This is, as you can tell from the pictures, a small, well-built shipping pallet that we've hung from one end of the swing set bar. I'd intended for it to be a temporary installation, one that lived there for a few months, to be replaced later by a tire swing or a rope swing or whatever else we concocted, but it has been so popular that it never came down.

Earlier this year, for the first time, one of the girls in our 3's class was knocked down by the pallet swing. She cried, but was uninjured. It was such a minor incident that it didn't rise to the level of adult discussion, but it apparently made an impact on the kids. They still use the pallet swing every day, but most of the time now, they take turns pushing one another, swinging it back and forth, but without actually letting go of the pallet, keeping it under control at all times and pretty much assuring that no one gets bumped. Interestingly, our older kids, while generally bolder in their play, often adopt this method for using the pallet swing as well, especially when there are more than a couple kids wanting to play there. I've never heard any of the kids discussing it other than to say, "I'll push." They just do it, I guess, because it makes sense.

The children innovated this all on their own, devising a common sense safety measure without any particular fuss or muss. This is how children, when allowed to figure out the world on their own, keep themselves and others safe without also wrecking the fun, which is what adults too often do when they get involved with their catastrophic thinking.

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