Friday, June 1, 2012

Why scary playground equipment is good for us

Scabs… where are they now?

No, I’m not talking about non-union workers brought in to replace striking employees. I’m talking about those healing crusts that form on our knees or elbows when we take a tumble and lose some skin.

Up until I was the age of about ten I felt as though I had permanent scabs on my knees and my friends did too. Ok, that might be a slight exaggeration but you get my drift. Scabs were not unusual; in fact they were downright common.

These days you hardly ever see children with scabby knees and the obligatory yellow iodine splotches. Have our children become infinitely more coordinated than past generations? Is this an example of evolutionary biology at its finest? Is it the natural selection process that Charles Darwin wrote about in his landmark 1859 book On the Origin of Species? I suspect not.

I suspect it may be a prime example of how we are being over-protective of our children and how our children are being cocooned inside their homes with ipods and other technological toys far away from bicycles devoid of training wheels. Are we wrapping them up in metaphorical cotton wool in an effort to get them to biological adulthood in one piece?

When I was growing up a visit to the Hay Park with my Gran was right up there on my favourite-things-to-do list. At the very top of my favourite-things-to-do-at-the-park list was riding the whirly-gig. This awesome piece of mechanical engineering was the highlight of any excellent adventure to the Hay Park.

The whirly-gig was a giant circular platform that sat about twenty centimetres off the ground. It was made of wood and metal with handrails radiating out from the centre and could be spun around at speed… Chinese restaurants have a similar concept in the form of their circular banquet tables (minus the handrails). 

A few of us kids would grab a handrail each and run beside the whirly-gig as fast as we could until it reached maximum speed. We then flung ourselves onto the platform and hung on for dear life while the g-forces threatened to suck us off the edge and into the dirt… which sometimes happened. Every so often skin would be grazed off and very occasionally I heard of a child who had broken their arm following a less than graceful dismount.

Back then parents didn’t ever think about consulting with solicitors with the idea of suing their local council for daring to provide playground equipment that wasn’t one hundred percent accident proof. The parents simply patched the child up and the child learnt to hang on tighter next time.

Resilience is the ability to recover quickly from illness, change, or misfortune. If ever there was a character trait that could assist us through the ups and downs of life, resilience is it.

Accidents and mistakes are essential ingredients for developing resilience in a child or adult. Luckily for us we mostly seem genetically programmed to learn things the hard way. Children naturally want to push boundaries and take risks. By allowing our children to get outside their comfort zones we are giving them the opportunities to learn, enhance their self-confidence and develop their resilience.

Parents of today (me included), need to work on overcoming our own fears when it comes to raising our children and allow them to enjoy the childhood adventures we once took for granted. Climbing trees grows resilience far better than sitting inside playing a computer game.

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