Saturday, September 25, 2010

I found this foto in a junque shop last weekend and it pretty much nailed the theme of an assignment due in my construction materials class. We were supposed to research (explore? discover?) a playground surfacing material and write a report about the surface we selected.My first inclination after perusing the list of rubber-this and synthetic-that was to stick with good old-fashion sand, but there are issues of critical height and accessibility. I have to take these design considerations to heart given my chosen profession.

My next choice was 'engineered wood fiber'. This surfacing material addresses fall zones, heights, and access AND it also has a more natural look and feel for those little bottoms to land on. I cannot speak for all LA's, but I think this is actually one of the more important issues for the kiddies today. The profession has addressed the consequences of raising a generation of 'nature deficit' children and yet we 'play' along when are offered these suspect products to coat their playgrounds. Yek!

Most serious playground injuries are caused by children falling from heights sufficient to do damage to their heads and bones. The emergency room stats prove it. However, replacing parental involvement with rubber products on the playground just seems to be feeding into this childhood sensory deprivation of the natural world.

I talked with a mother of a 3- and a 1-year old. She thought the rubber mats on the playground were wonderful, except....they got too hot to play on when the temperature climbed; they were too slippery when wet. Tests of these recycled rubber products also indicate dangerous levels of zinc and lead...serious drawbacks considering these are supposed to be safe places for children.

My kids learned to climb trees and rocks and they busied themselves in their sandbox for hours on end. Tess discovered an old serving spoon buried in the sandbox one day. She was delighted when she pulled it out of the sand. She pretended to 'sip' sand from the bowl of the spoon, then quickly emptied the contents of the spoon into her mouth. OK. I would not freak. I figured this would be a one-time thing, an experience in the discovery of the grittiness of sand in one's mouth! I was wrong. Next day, she tried it again. More crunching and spitting. When I asked her why she was eating sand, she told me she wanted to see if it was still crunchy. I assured her that every spoonful would feel the same in her mouth...every time. And to the best of my knowledge, she has never tried it again. What parent would deprive their child of such a great sensory experience : {

Ev's favorite climbing structure still grows down the street. I have, on occasion, seen him walk down there as a high school-er and college student, swing his leg up and over the lowest branch to hoist himself up into the crotch of that Amur Maple. It has grown along with him over the years and he still talks about those early Sunday morning walks which always started and ended at this tree. He would crawl out of the stroller, (jump off his trike, dismount his tiny bike decked out with baseball cards/clothespins and training wheels) to wait for a boost, so he could swing his leg up and over that lowest branch. His experience included having me there to spot him, to catch him if he slipped, but mostly to bolster his confidence as he mastered this natural climbing structure of a tree.

Call me old-fashioned, call me a mother, but sand and pea gravel, grass and wood fiber mulch, boulders and trees offer a more natural playground than metal/plastic play structures and synthetic surfaces. Falling into the arms of a parent or guardian seems a much safer fall zone from critical height than landing unattended on a 30-pound chunk of recycled rubber tile.

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