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safety first: sacrificing fitness for safety
by lucy lediaev

Worried about child safety (and likely subsequent exposure to lawsuits), school systems across the country are eliminating hazards from school playgrounds. The hazards—swings, teeter-totters, sandboxes, cement crawl tubes, hand-pulled merry-go-grounds—are being removed to keep kids safe. According to a recent article in the Sun-Sentinel, Broward County, Florida, school safety officials recently posted signs instructing children not to run on school playgrounds.

And we wonder why our children are no longer physically fit? We wonder why obesity levels among children are at an all-time high.

With urbanization and concern over child stealing and assaults, children are kept closer to home, no longer riding their bicycles long distances to visit friends, stop at the neighborhood mall, or to simply explore their communities. In addition, children no longer scramble over hills and through open fields, because development has consumed most of the open spaces in cities and suburbs. Green areas in cities are disappearing.

As school budgets tighten, physical education classes are reduced in number and length, or, in some cases, they've been wiped out entirely.

Children in affluent communities may attend expensive once-a-week dance, gymnastics, or karate classes as their only fitness activities. Children in inner cities are often confined to home, where they watch television or play video games instead of engaging in outdoor activities.

Now, with the emphasis on safety and financial liability, play equipment in the remaining open and green areas on school property and in public parks is being removed or modified.

Where will children play? Where will they run and chase each other, rolling and tumbling on the grass. Where will they swing, pointing their toes towards the heavens and imagining themselves vaulted into outer space? Where will they spin round and round until they fall to the turf dizzy, sweating, and happy?

Somehow, we need to balance concerns over safety and liability with fitness and fun. Surely, the concern over safety should be balanced by concerns over the long-term impact of limited physical activity during childhood!


A freelance writer and full-time grandma, Lucy Lediaev retired recently from a position as web master, tech writer, and copy writer in a biotech firm. She is enjoying retirment more than she ever dreamed and is now writing about topics that are, for the most part, interesting and fun. She also has time to pursue some of her long-time interests, such as crafts, reading, sewing, baking, cooking, and the like.

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joe procopio
10.11.05 @ 2:19p

At the town park near my house, they have a playground built upon this foam-rubber cement-like surface the gives just slightly under your feet. It's awesome. My girls are constantly faceplanting, assplanting, and elbowplanting on this surface with not a care.

adam kraemer
10.11.05 @ 2:42p

Well, makes more sense than the woodchips they used at my elementary school. Nothing breaks a child's fall like lumber.

dan gonzalez
10.11.05 @ 4:22p

I'm with you. How is it they can't escape liability by posting a sign that says "Play at your risk" or some such? Too many lawyers, too little personal responsibility?

lucy lediaev
10.11.05 @ 4:25p

And wood chips have splinters! Lots of parks are still using wood chips.

I've seen the "foam-rubber cement-like surface," which makes a lot of sense to me. Of course, these new safe surfaces cost a lot more money than signs ordering kids not to run.

Clearly, it's much cheaper to tear equipment out than to make it safer.

dan gonzalez
10.12.05 @ 12:44a

All I can say for my kids is, wood chips or not, if they see a sign 'ordering' them not to run, I hope they think 'screw it' and run anyway because that's what kids do. Run, play, explore. Better get a splinter and learn themselves than be frightened into submission like sheep, don't you think?

lucy lediaev
10.12.05 @ 6:06p

I hope they think 'screw it' and run anyway because that's what kids do. Run, play, explore.

Finally--something on which I agree with Dan!

dan gonzalez
10.12.05 @ 10:56p

I disagree, Lucy. We've agreed on many things before, I'm sure of it!

drew wright
10.13.05 @ 3:40p

And people wonder why kids enjoy videogames so much. Its the only chance they have to escape into a world free of rules. Except those bound to them by the games guidelines.

We have taken this fear of death to a new level as a society. It seems clear to me that some parents would rather raise Asthmatic, Obese, scrubbed clean, indoors loving, and socially deficiant children (so they can supposidly live forever), then the heavily scarred, healthy, exploratory kids that I remember being(and probably almost died on a weekly basis).

How long will it be before kids have to wear helmet while riding in cars. Or even worse while playing a game of tetherball. Except by then the tetherball will be replaced by a soft foam ball that is childproof.

Why does it seem that "freedom" is becoming an increasingly subjective term?

tracey kelley
10.13.05 @ 5:13p

I think those foam-rubber surfaces are awesome, and a great use for discarded tires.

This is, frankly, bullshit. It smacks of "NO! I'm NOT taking personal responsibility for my or my child's actions!" and I'm sick of it.

You've not had a childhood until you've been pushed off a swing. Come on!

lucy lediaev
10.13.05 @ 7:45p

It saddens me to know that my granddaughter has far less freedom to explore her environment than I had 50+ years ago.

Even though I lived only five miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles, I had the run of brush covered hills. I stayed out playing after dark, walked alone to stores and friends' homes a mile or more away, and rode the bus to my grandmother's house, all before I was nine years old. I skinned my knees running and tripping, ran into a tree while learning to ride a bike (no helmet and no knee or elbow pads), and I fell off the top of a slide when it was overloaded with kids. I survived and expect to live to a great old age.

tim lockwood
10.18.05 @ 12:39a

All this reminds me of a bit of dialogue from "Finding Nemo" (which was a household favorite well before there was a child in the house). I might not have it word-for-word, but it goes something like this:

Marlin (the daddy fish) says to Dory, the sweet but memory-impaired fish who is helping him look for his son Nemo, "I promised my son I'd never let anything happen to him."

Replies Dory, "Huh. That's a funny thing to promise. I mean, if you never let anything happen to him, then nothing will ever happen to him."

As a fairly new parent who used to be a somewhat sheltered kid (although thankfully not entirely), I instinctively want to protect my girl from all the hazards she encounters. Since she's just learned to walk in the past three or four weeks, I have these mini heart attacks every time she bangs her head on the coffee table or climbs on top of a rickety plastic toy.

Mostly, though, I just clench my teeth and try not to emote much. She has to learn several basic lessons that only experience can teach: that it's fun to explore and do new things; that the kittycats do not like to be treated as stuffed animals; that the gravity on this planet is always on; that Newton's laws always apply; that things with solid surfaces hurt when you hit them with certain body parts; and the world is not always a safe place no matter how much Daddy and Mommy wish it were otherwise.

That's not to say one should let babies play with the pretty rat-poison box. I just think, somewhere along the line, someone lost track of the already blurry line between removing obvious dangers, and bubble-wrapping their offspring.

lisa r
10.18.05 @ 5:25p

Thank heavens I grew up in the 70s (bad fashion notwithstanding). I wrecked my bike. I fell off of very large horses. I crashed while roller skating. All without helmets, kneepads, or cotton wool swaddling me.

You learn from your experiences as a child, just as you do as an adult. Some kids have to learn by hands-on method that the stove is hot, bikes are more stable on 2 wheels, and tormenting the neighbor's nasty-tempered Chihuahua are not smart things to do. Life is bumpy. Better to learn it when you're small and someone's around to clean and dress the results of your exploration, I should think.


russ carr
10.18.05 @ 9:22p

I had enough built-in medical problems as a kid that God decided to show me some good karma: none of the usual childhood diseases, no broken bones, no trips to the emergency room. But I remember bee stings, skinned knees and elbows (and that wicked Bactine...which stung worse than the injury) and grass-stained jeans. I recall losing at least two teeth when I kept goal during soccer at recess.

I remember sledding down a steep hill in 7th grade, expecting to stop at the fence at the bottom of the hill. I got going so fast that I slipped UNDER the chain links. On the other side of the fence was a six-foot drop over a retaining wall. So, I fell. The sled didn't break, neither did I. Hey, I was inventing extreme sports long before there were X Games!

Week before last was torture, as my grandmother was staying with us, and she was a basket case when Brendan would tear through the house at full afterburner. On two other visits, she's seen him run full tilt into furniture, and she dreaded the thought of him doing it again. She kept chiding him "Don't run! Don't run!" It bugged me, because I know that Brendan knows his limits, and that there was really no way he could get seriously hurt. Banged up, sure. But I decided not to talk to her about it, as Brendan (ever the two-year-old) pretty much ignored her anyway.

Kids gotta play. Kids gotta learn. The Band-Aid Corporation depends on them.

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