Germany adds MORE RISK to its playgrounds. Some of its climbing structures now have three floors. And who is asking that?
They want children to grow up “risk-competent”. Ironically, the culture of “safety” hinders children’s risk assessment skills.
“It’s a fantastic advance in understanding childhood as the right time for children to learn to recognize and mitigate risk,” says Gever Tulley – who should know. He is the founder of SF Brightworks and Tinkering School in San Francisco and author of “50 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kids Do”.
An influential German study in 2004 found that “children who improved their motor skills in playgrounds at an early age were less likely to experience accidents as they got older,” writes journalist Philip Oltermann in The Guardian. He adds:
As young people spend more and more time at home, the umbrella association of statutory accident insurers in Germany called last year for more playgrounds that teach children to develop ‘risk skills. “.
It’s music to the ears of actuaries – and also to some parents.
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My friend Siobhan is originally from New York and moved to Germany. A few years ago, when her daughter was in elementary school, she said: “The school replaced the standard playground equipment with four long, thick trees without their branches, all linked together by wide ropes and wobbly rubber bridges. The whole thing was maybe 6 feet at the highest point. But the trees had been polished, so they were slippery.
Sure enough, Siobhan said, the very first week they were installed, “A girl fell and broke her arm. As an American, I nervously anticipated the outrage that would surely ensue. My heart was in my throat as I listened to other parents during the pickup the next day. What did I hear? “Children need to learn their limits! »No pursuit? No, “Destroy that thing?” Siobhan was delighted.
This more risk-tolerant approach is starting to take hold beyond Germany, says Tim Gill, author of “Urban Playground: How Child-Friendly Planning and Design Can Save Cities”. “Even international safety standards organizations – so often the ‘fun police’ when it comes to playgrounds – take a more balanced and pro-risk view. “
While the appetite for risk here in America may be a little slower to develop, New York City built its first adventure playground, The Yard, in 2016, using hammers, nails, lots of wood and saws.
He sticks to his credo: “No parents allowed”. And as a resident of gaming conferences, I can attest that many gaming specialists are hungry for more exciting playgrounds.
Unfortunately, this fits with our culture’s habit of underestimating children, overestimating danger, and hiring litigators. In 2019, a family who sued the school district of Howell Township, NJ, when their daughter fell from the toboggan and broke her arm won a settlement of $ 170,000. Their lawyer had argued that the slope of the slide was too steep, as it formed an angle of 35 degrees instead of 30.
Perhaps out of fear of this sort of thing, one school district – Richland, Washington – simply got rid of its swings, arguing that “swings have been determined to be the most dangerous of all playground equipment. “.
Yes. Because all the rides and swings have already been uprooted.
Thus, American childhood remains, for the most part, a safe space made of primary-colored plastic, covered with mulch chips, non-slip. Or, as one German insurance director might say, fertile ground for risk ignorance.