The playground of LIFE: We’re doing it wrong

I’ve been spending a lot of time at the playground lately. Actually, I’ve been spending a lot of time at a LOT of playgrounds lately.

If my 5-year-old son is a ball of energy, then his 2-year-old sister is a quasar. Kids their age know no bounds when it comes to the amount of fun and exercise they can cram into one day.

So as a stay-at-home dad, I try to do as much as I can with them, going to parks and playgrounds at least twice a week, and sometimes more. Not only is it obviously good for them -but the long, sustained nap that follows (for my daughter, at least) means I’ll be able to get a solid 2-3 hours of work done in the afternoon!

Ever the observer, though, I have discovered that playgrounds, for all their enticing equipment and happy colours, are fooling our children. They may be fun to swing and slide and play and run, but they are not doing our children any favours when it comes to learning about the reality of life that awaits them when they get older. Consider the following…

  1. Slides. Go up the steps and coast all the way down. Sure, it’s fun – but isn’t climbing up a slippery incline while others are speeding downward, ready to take you out, a better analogy for adulthood?
    slide 2
  2. Swings. You go forward and back, forward and back, each time rising a little bit higher and higher! Yet no matter how hard you pump, no matter how high you get…inertia and gravity keep trying to slow you down.
  3. Jungle Gym. Climb and hang and crawl through spaces while maneuvering through obstacles, perilous heights, and other climbers as you attempt to make it from point A to point B. Anyone who’s worked in Corporate America can see this analogy a mile away.
  4. Photo courtesy of Bluegrass Playgrounds, Inc.

    Merry-Go-Round. My two older daughters used to love this at one of the parks we frequented; grab hold of the bars, run fast to get the merry-go-round spinning, and then jump on and enjoy the ride! Which is all well and good until you try to get off – sorry, son, you’re stuck on this ride until it lets you get off.

  5. See-Saw (Teeter-Totter). Another perfect adult-life analogy: The person you’re playing with goes up, up, up – the lower you go! Which means the only way you can go up…is when the other person is all the way down.

See what I mean? What are our playgrounds teaching our children???

Then again…I suppose it’s all in the way one looks at it. Slides teach our kids that if they are willing to climb all the way to the top, that there will be an enjoyable – if fleeting – reward for them.

Swings show them that the harder they work, the faster and higher they’ll go (even if they never really make it into orbit, as many probably wish). Jungle gyms teach them how to navigate life’s journey, merry-go-rounds encourage them to take those intimidating leaps off the spinning wheel and try something else – or even get the wheel to go faster.

And see-saws are all about teamwork. I’ll help you go up, then you’ll help me go up, and by working together we can accomplish our goal.  Even if that goal is to simply kill time goofing off for an afternoon.

So I guess it IS all a matter of mindset and attitude, isn’t it? Yes, I do see now that playgrounds are actively teaching our youngsters all sorts of wonderful life lessons! Perspective is, indeed, important.

Childlike perspective, at that.

And one of these days, I swear I’m going to launch myself into orbit.

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4 thoughts on “The playground of LIFE: We’re doing it wrong

  1. Wonderful analogies, Matt. When I saw the beginnings on FB I imagined you were going to talk about the sameness of playgrounds. I haven’t seen one with a merry-go-round or a see-saw in a long time. There have been articles about keeping kids “too” safe. But you’ve made it so positive here. Love it.


    1. Thanks, Linda. I’ve read about kids being kept ‘too safe,’ as well, but I don’t think that does them too many favors. Of course I don’t want my kids to be severely injured, but letting them fall and get banged up now and then teaches them resiliency!


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