The Swanson School in Auckland, NZ, quietly eliminated all the rules against "unsafe play," allowing kids to play swordfight with sticks, ride scooters, and climb trees. It started when the playground structures were torn down to make way for new ones, and the school principal, Bruce McLachlan, noticed that kids were building their own structures out of the construction rubble. The "unsafe" playground has resulted in some injuries, including at least one broken arm, but the parents are very supportive of the initiative. In particular, the parents of the kid with the broken arm made a point of visiting the principal to ask him not to change the playground just because their kid got hurt.
The article in the Canadian National Post notes that Kiwis are less litigious, by and large, than Americans, and that they enjoy an excellent national health service, and says that these two factors are a large contributor to the realpolitik that makes the playground possible. But this is still rather daring by Kiwi standards.
Read the rest
Projectophile's Clare has a funny post about the hazards presented by beautiful mid-century modern home designs to children. My grandparents had a proper split-level MCM when I was a kid, and it's a wonder we survived. As Clare says, "I love open, flowing space as much as the next modern girl. But I know it would only be a matter of minutes before my kid flings himself off one of these deadly ledges..."
15 Mid-Century Modern Dream Homes that will Kill Your Children
Emily is six, and her dad wants her to be independent. The local law, not so much. When he let her cross the street on her own, a cop picked her up and detained her and her dad for half an hour, before admitting that it wasn't illegal to let a six year old cross the street. But things really kicked off when dad let Emily go to the store, a few blocks away. The cops detained her, and when her dad went to pick her up, the law wouldn't let him, calling Child Protective Services instead and only relenting when CPS told them they were too busy to intervene -- though they did follow up with a threatening letter to Emily's dad.
Once I got to the police station they would not release her to me for over 20 minutes, though she was sitting behind bullet-proof glass just 20 feet away. When the police finally came to talk to me, I was told that they had responded to a call of a young child being unsupervised. They refused to identify a reasonable cause for her detention, or even what law had been broken. They insisted that they were waiting for CPS to respond before they would let me see my daughter, but then they later came back and said that they were releasing me to her because CPS had told them to give her to me, since I was waiting for her.
I received a letter from CPS today.
Emily knows her name, address, phone number, etc. Furthermore, the responding officer knows exactly who both Emily and I are since she responded to a complaint regarding Emily crossing the street by herself just a few days prior, during which we were detained for more than half an hour. After this previous incident her supervisor had confirmed that there was no law against a child crossing the street by themselves.
Cops Detain 6-year-old for Walking Around Neighborhood (And It Gets Worse)
Writing in Boston Magazine, Katherine Ozment recounts how she went from hovering over her kids to keep them from harm to adopting a hands-off regime that let them take risks and play on their own. I had dinner last night with my writing-collaborator Benjamin Rosenbaum and he said he saw his duty as a parent as "preventing damage," not "preventing pain" -- pain (emotional and physical) teaches us a lot, and parents need to allow some measure of it in their kids' lives to help them learn important lessons, but a parent also should intervene to prevent pain from giving rise to damage. Knowing the difference is tricky -- of course.
My heart sank. How times had changed. I still remember the time my two older brothers built an igloo in our front yard. It had a domed roof and arched entrance, and they strung an overhead work lamp from the ceiling and laid out a small rug so we could all sit in it for hours. Witnessing my children’s paltry fort-making skills, I thought, Is this what our kids will remember of winter — digging little holes in the snow as their mother hovered nearby? Where has the childhood I once knew gone?
In my nine years as a parent, I’ve followed the rules, protocols, and cultural cues that have promised to churn out well-rounded, happy, successful children. I’ve psychoanalyzed my kids’ behavior, supervised an avalanche of activities, and photo-documented their day-to-day existence as if I were a wildlife photographer on the Serengeti. I do my utmost to develop their minds and build up their confidence, while at the same time living with the constant low-level fear that bad things will happen to them. But lately, I’ve begun to wonder if, by becoming so attuned to their every need and so controlling of their every move, I’ve somehow played a small part in changing the very nature of their childhood.
I know that if I continue on this path, not only will my kids never have the wherewithal to build an igloo after a snowstorm, they won’t even have the freedom or imagination to try. Watching them play halfheartedly in their meager little forts, I knew I had to change.
Welcome to the Age of Overparenting
(via Free Range Kids)
(Image: My Snow Fort, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from kmonojo's photostream)
Here's an ingenious heuristic for evaluating the livability of a neighborhood: can a kid get to a store on her own, buy a popsicle, and get home again before it melts? It comes from a Vancouver, BC planning official's presentation at the 2003 New Partners for Smart Growth conference in New Orleans.
He went on with a series of slides showing a neighboring child from his downtown building taking to the streets, visiting a shop, playing in a tot lot. I remember being quite inspired by the idea and I imagine others were too, as it wasn’t too much later that “the popsicle test” — the ability of an 8 year old to safely get somewhere to buy a popsicle, then make it home before it melts — became the go-to elevator speech for a lot of New Urbanists making their case.
Smart Growth = Smart Parenting
Now jump ahead to 2011. Just last week, in fact. Doing some work in Canada, I stumbled into a conversation on “the Vancouver model” — typically characterized by the pencil-thin towers that brought new density, and new life, to Vancouver’s revitalizing streetscapes — when something funny happened. “If you were to ask Larry Beasley (the city’s former planning director) today, in retrospect, what he sees as the biggest shortcoming of his legacy there,” someone said, “he would say it was the failure to bring kids downtown.”
(via Free Range Kids
(Image: IMG_0844, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from crimsonninjagirl's photostream)