Now that most playgrounds are just random collections of uber-safe plastic sunk into mulch, plenty of people are beginning to suspect that maybe these playspaces aren’t so awesome for kids. But one child therapist is going beyond suspecting and actually trying to prove it.
In an upcoming book, Balanced and Barefoot: How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident, and Capable Children, Angela Hanscom argues that playgrounds aren’t getting kids to think or move wildly enough. That doesn’t just make them snooze-fests — it actively hinders the development of attention skills and body awareness that are necessary for things like sports, dancing, and walking around without bumping into stuff. For example, merry-go-rounds have been quietly disappearing from playgrounds for years because no seat belts (duh!). But those delightfully manual vomit comets actually max out a kid’s “vestibular complex,” a sensory system in the inner ear, and that gives them better balance and spatial orientation. If spinning mindlessly in circles can accomplish that, imagine what a see-saw backflip can do for your kid.
Hanscom’s theories are backed by an ever-growing body of research, but it’s fair to ask if that research is even necessary. After all, playground injury rates in the U.S. have remained pretty much the same since 1980; meanwhile, the guys in charge of playground materials in this country are busy deciding that grass is an unsafe surface.
[H/T]: Washington Post