Friday, April 27, 2018

Too Many "Tripping Hazards"

A while back, a concerned person took a look at our junkyard playground, tsk-tsk-ed, and handed me a brochure on playground safety. Her leading objection was that our space presented too many "tripping hazards," as if the world is not one giant tripping hazard. I did take the brochure seriously enough to track down the citations, which ultimately lead me to a concerned parents group from back in the 1980's that, without concerning itself with any studies, data, or research, had come up with a set of playground safety standards that had grown from their ability to imagine the worst case scenario. What I normally refer to as catastrophic thinking.

I ultimately accommodated this person by agreeing to ask a parent to kick loose things off the walkways at the end of the day.

We've been playing on our junkyard playground (for more photos and information click here and here) for a long time now. I don't know if it qualifies as a proper "adventure playground" or not, but I tend think of it as a preschool version of one. We've had some bumped heads and skinned knees of course, but we've only once sent a kid to the doctor's office. Indeed, the boy had tripped, but it was over his own feet, and one of his teeth pierced his upper lip requiring stitches. According to the child's mother, the doctor who attended him called it "a very common childhood injury."

Tim Gill has a post up on his Rethinking Childhood website that takes a look at a tiny, but fascinating study (an actual study, not just catastrophic thinking) in which a private school in Texas decided to compare the injury rates between its conventional playground with its out-of-the-box, up-to-standards play structures, and its adventure playground, the one with "timber structures, tools, junk materials, and skilled workers." They found what those of us who have watched children play in both kinds of places have always observed: despite the apparent "tripping hazards," there were fewer injuries on the adventure playground. Here's a link to the study itself.

Now in fairness, neither playground was particularly dangerous. As Gill points out, the injury rate on the standard issue playground was about the same as a child playing at home, while the rate of injury on the adventure playground was similar to playing ping pong. Still, it's nice to have some actual data to support what those of us in the business already suspect, which is always better than relying upon someone else's catastrophic thinking.

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