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Posted on Wed, May 19, 2010 : 6:21 a.m.

Are playgrounds becoming too safe?

By Jen Eyer


Photo by Flickr user dsb nola

An article in Salon on Monday takes a critical look at how regulated America's playgrounds have become.

While allowing that some rules make sense, author Lenore Skenazy asks whether things have gone too far.

"It's better... that screws are no longer allowed to protrude from playground equipment -- probably saved a tooth or two. And I don't like the idea of a kid getting his head stuck between two poorly spaced jungle gym bars any more than you do. But playground regulations have bloated to 51 pages, says Frost (who actually counted). Now that public playgrounds account for just three or four fatalities a year -- tragic, of course, but rarer than lightning deaths -- are the endless edicts really helping? If, for every kid who doesn't break his leg, millions more never develop the muscles to do a chin-up, or the endurance to play a game of tag, or any interest in playing outside, period, thanks to dumbed-down playgrounds: Is this really a good trade-off?"

Anytime I see an article about playground safety, I think how lucky our kids are to have a real merry-go-round at one of our local parks. As playground equipment goes, merry-go-rounds are definitely on the endangered species list.

I have seen kids get hurt on that thing — including my own — but nothing ever serious. Belle, who is now 6, still talks about the time three years ago when she slid off the merry-go-round, landed flat on her back and got the wind knocked out of her.

It took her a few minutes to recover, and then she got back on. In my mind, she learned a good lesson on centrifugal force; in her mind she learned never to let go when you're on something that's spinning.

Go to that park on any nice day and you'll see kids wild with excitement on the merry-go-round. The older kids spin it, usually doing a good job of calibrating the speed to the age of the riders. Yes, little kids fall off, and parents or older kids help them up, dust them off, and put them back on.

It would be a shame if the city ever removed the merry-go-round to placate the safety police. In fact, I wish they would install more of them in other city parks — they could start with Las Vegas. The play equipment at that park is so safe and boring that my kids can't stand to be there longer than a few minutes.

Jen Eyer is on the Community Team at She leads the Parenting and Pets sections, and writes feature stories, blog posts and opinion pieces. She can be reached at 734-623-2577 or



Thu, May 20, 2010 : 8:19 a.m.

"If you are upset with the risks of offshore drilling, how about you stop driving a car?" Interesting argument. A counter question to Ram: if you are so eager to embrace the risks of offshore drilling, how about you move to coastal Louisiana? They will need help mopping up the oil soon.


Thu, May 20, 2010 : 8 a.m.

Lok, I'm sure you meant a two inch long splinter, not a two inch wide one.


Wed, May 19, 2010 : 3:01 p.m.

The following is from a website about movement and learning: Researchers know certain movements stimulate the inner ear. That helps physical balance, motor coordination, and stabilization of images on the retina. David Clarke at Ohio State University's College of Medicine has confirmed the positive results of a particular type of activity -- spinning (1980). With merry-go-rounds and swings disappearing from parks and playgrounds as fast as liability costs go up, there's a new worry: more learning disabilities. Clarke's studies suggest that certain spinning activities led to alertness, attention, and relaxation in the classroom.


Wed, May 19, 2010 : 2:43 p.m.

"Back in my day..." What a waste of story. Playground equipment is way more inventive and interactive then it used to be. You don't need equipment to play tag and ask any kid in jr. high who wants to do chin-ups. This is a poor excuse of an article catering to the poor memory of nostalgia.


Wed, May 19, 2010 : 1:45 p.m.

A follow-up comment of mine has not shown up, so I will hold off on including the URL. If you want to see a good example of what not to let folks do with a merry go round, hit autoblog and search for a merry-go-round post from earlier today.


Wed, May 19, 2010 : 12:44 p.m.

I think for my age the "springy board" was the first thing to go. Remember that wood square with 4 springs that you would try to shake the other person off? Those things were great...too much competition I guess.


Wed, May 19, 2010 : noon

Me, I miss the giant metal slide at my neighborhood park that towered toward the heavens and then heated up from the sun so you not only ran the risk of falling several stories if you fell off on the way up, you also could develop some lovely butt burns on the way down. Those were the days...


Wed, May 19, 2010 : 11:45 a.m.

Sometimes you had to get a 2 inch thick wood slinter in your hand from the old school wooden structures to learn a lesson. What lesson? Actually I don't know, but taking fun away isn't a good answer. Next it will be no equipment over 6 feet tall, everyone will have to wear a helmut, nothign with any water...etc.

Woman in Ypsilanti

Wed, May 19, 2010 : 11:39 a.m.

When it comes to regulation, the law of diminishing marginal returns certainly comes into play. If there are really only a few playground deaths per year these days, perhaps we can at least agree that existing playground regulations are sufficient. The city can get insurance for the minimal risk of injury that still exists and everyone can get on with having a good time at the playground.


Wed, May 19, 2010 : 11:28 a.m.

Playgrounds (especially at school) will never be the same until you can fling yourself off a swing onto the asphalt below, going for the distance record among classmates, followed by some water out of a BPA-infused plastic bottle.

Thick Candy Shell

Wed, May 19, 2010 : 11:26 a.m.

Some of my best memories involved "risky" activities. We actually had a regular diving board and a 3 meter diving board at our local swimming pool, imagine that. We also had slides that were steel and would burn your legs if you didn't wet them down. They gave us practical experience and you only made the mistake once!


Wed, May 19, 2010 : 10:49 a.m.

Alan: More regulation is not ALWAYS better, come on now. If you are upset with the risks of offshore drilling, how about you stop driving a car?

Marvin Face

Wed, May 19, 2010 : 10:15 a.m.

What happened to the days when playgrounds helped weed out the weak among us? (Darwinism at it's finest) If you couldn't survive the payground, how were you going to survive in the rest of life? Too much regulation, absolutely.

Alan Benard

Wed, May 19, 2010 : 10:08 a.m.

Every time I see a lazy magazine or newspaper article arguing against regulation, I find a straw-man argument. More regulation is always better. Less regulation leads to companies taking advantage at the expense of safety. We have a 10-mile plume of oil in the Gulf of Mexico as testament to this. Kids will get all the exercise they require if they are encouraged to do so. Regulating playground equipment has nothing to do with this.


Wed, May 19, 2010 : 9:59 a.m.

I concur with Top Cat.

This time I'm losing my mind

Wed, May 19, 2010 : 9:52 a.m.

Agree that some of the old playground equipment was the best. When I was a kid, Frisinger Park had this 2+ story climbing structure made entirely of steel pipes. Some of the new playgrounds are pretty cool, though - Evergreen Park off Dexter-AA Rd. and Garden Homes Park off Miller are good ones to check out.

Top Cat

Wed, May 19, 2010 : 9:43 a.m.

Safety is one thing. Sanitizing and controlling the play environment for children and young people is another. As a parent and former Scout leader we have gone too far in removing the fun, risk and creativity from childhood. Kids need to be allowed to be kids.