Friday, October 05, 2018

Safe And Independent

I'm sure we're not the last school in America to have no particular rules surrounding the use of our swings: a trapeze bar, a tire swing, and a rope that's hung between two traditional strap-seat swings. I suppose when I say that, I'm not being entirely truthful. I do strongly suggest (stopping just short of a rule) that adults refrain from pushing kids on the swings, partly in the interest of safety. The only significant swing-related injuries I've ever seen have been the result of a grown-up propelling a child to a height and with a momentum that they could never achieve on their own. But the main reason I'd rather the adults not help them is that I see our school as a place where children learn to do things on their own, a place to learn to be independent.

I understand why nervous adults feel the need to restrict children's play on and around swing sets. I even understand why lazy adults simply have them removed, but from where I sit the price of giving into catastrophic thinking, the cost of our reluctance to trust children, is too high. When we first moved into this space some eight years ago, the swings were new for our community and we adults fussed among ourselves over what and how as we vigorously monitored the swing play. Today, it's rare for fretful adults to linger in the area and even rarer that they intervene in the play. We've learned.

I was reflecting on this yesterday as some of the three-year-olds pulled a step stool over to the swinging rope. They like to stand on the stool, rope in hand, then jump, hanging on the rope as it swings back and forth. They perform this operation between a pair of strap-seat swings that are almost always in operation, a situation that requires the children to keep to their own lane at all times, something they do without being warned by adults. The kids were queuing up, again without adult prompting, taking turns, again without adult prompting, and helping one another by fetching the rope for the next kid in line, again without any adult participation. I was there, talking to the kids, responding when they called out, "Watch me!" but otherwise remaining seated on the sidelines admiring how they managed this game that would likely be outlawed in most schoolyards.

Then someone had the idea of placing our three-legged trampoline in the landing zone with the intention of using it as a target. Later a small shipping pallet was positioned under the rope as a kind of obstacle to overcome. Meanwhile other kids were standing on the strap-swings, spinning on the tire swing, and hanging by their knees from the trapeze bar; as many as a dozen of them dangling, clambering, and swinging there in close proximity, cooperating, creating, and caring for one another as they played. Not to mention the important health and developmental reasons that children need to swing.

We want our children to be both safe and independent. As I watch children play on our swings without adult interference, what I see is that one emerges from the other, but only if we can step back and let the children play.

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