Spongy Playgrounds


I think it might be time I started a new category for my blog entries — “Back in my day…”

Last week I saw the documentary Babies.   You know, that one about the superhero in the metal suit.  No wait, that’s a different film.  This one, Babies, was about babies.  It was the Hot Tub Time Machine of documentaries.  Meaning, it’s all spelled out for you in the title. 4 babies, 4 parts of the world: Mongolia, Africa, Japan, San Francisco.

They cry, they coo, they spit up, they crawl, they poop, they steal your heart.

But what really struck me about the film are the behaviors of the (mostly-offscreen) parents.  The two babies growing up in the industrialized world (San Fran, Tokyo) looked like they were on their way to becoming… well… (how do I put this delicately?  After all, they’re just babies),,, wussies!

They were coddled and fussed and fawned over, barely allotted 10 seconds to themselves.  Meanwhile, out in Africa and Mongolia, those plucky infants are eating dirt, fending off herds of stampeding cows, climbing (and falling off of) rusty garbage cans and generally learning early and often that the world can be a cruel and unforgiving place.

Yes, it was sad to see such a tiny little human struggling to survive, but I gotta say — I think those kids are going to be better off in the long run than the over Mommy-and-me’ed duo in the U.S. and Japan.

Which brings me to the real topic at hand…

Why are the surfaces of all playgrounds today made of foam?

Look, I know we live in a baby-driven world.  It’s all about the children.  They’re our future or so I’ve been told and sung to.   But there is a fine line between protecting children from the dangers of the world and manipulating our world to such an extent that it doesn’t resemble anything the child will have to face later in life.

The Earth is hard.  I’m not talking metaphorically.  I’m talking about dirt.  The ground.  The rock beneath us.  It’s a hard substance.  Only a very small percentage of the Earth is covered in a spongy foam-like substance (My Gyms, Insane Asylums, and certain parts of Michigan).  Why are we hiding this fact from our children?

In some ways isn’t that teaching them the opposite lesson that we want them to learn?  Isn’t it our overprotective way of saying “Hey, don’t worry about falling on your head from high atop the juggle gym, it’s just FOAM down there!  And while we’re on it, don’t worry about face planting off the roof of daddy’s SUV because I’m sure wherever you land for the rest of your life WILL ALSO BE SOFT AND FOAMY.”

Now I’m not suggesting that we all run out and collectively drop our kids on their heads.  That wouldn’t be wise.  After all, there are only so many cast member slots available on Jersey Shore.   But I do think a couple of bumps and scratches every now and again can have a positive effect on a child’s learning curve.  That and the occasional goat attack seems to help build a little character, don’t ya think?



One Response to Spongy Playgrounds

  1. carissa says:

    I had no idea they were made of foam! I do know though that back in my day, when there was concrete at the bottom of a 12 foot slide, I once fell off and shattered my arm and had to wear it in a cast inside my shirt for 3 months. WHich wouldn’t have been a big deal except i also had to wear an eyepatch and all the kids at school called me a one armed pirate. Life was hard. 🙂

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