Monday, November 28, 2011

Playgrounds for Grown-ups! (from the Cleveland Post, May 5, 2011)

Stepping Back, Looking Closer: Playgrounds for Grown-ups!


K. S. Volcjak

I was wrestling with this week's column when my daughter came home with a language arts assignment: Describe the perfect playground.

We brainstormed.

I ditched my topic for hers.

Playgrounds. Wouldn't it be awesome to have play equipment sturdy enough for grown-ups to play on it with their children?

Think about it!

Have you been to a modern playground? They are so cool! They get my imagination going.

I spent many a recess on the Muscle Man at our elementary school. Three parallel bars, about waist high on a fourth grader, lead back to a more enclosed area. Horizontal bars, for doing flips, connected the parallel bars to two "walls" of galvanized pipe. The pipe was spaced like the rungs of a ladder, rose on either side, and gave access to two fireman's polls. The back "wall" consisted of a long stretch of monkey bars. I suppose it could have been a fort, but, looking back, boot camp obstacle course is what comes to mind. That may have had something to do with my 6th grade teacher, who was a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps and sent us across those monkey bars every morning to keep us in shape.

But the newer play equipment speaks to my imagination. Rope ladders lead to platforms constructed to look like the decks of sailing ships (including the ship's wheel, ropes and pulleys). Swinging bridges connect to towers which provide access to serious slides or even zip lines. Adventure beckons.

I don't think I would have had the nerve to try a zip line when I was a child. And I had a particular fear of swinging bridges because on TV they usually came with steaming jungles, snakes in the trees, rotten boards and jagged rocks far below.

But now - let me at 'em!

Alas, I am not 12 or under.

Wouldn't it be fun to go on Indiana Jones adventures with your children, across those bridges or down those zip lines? Or race up the rope ladder to go a-pirating? Think of the stories we'd have to tell.

Think of the exercise we'd get.

A few years ago, my husband built a play set in the back yard: ladder, fort, slide, swings. I insisted that the swings be sturdy enough for an adult. I'm glad I did. Nothing like swinging to lift your mood, soothe your spirit. Robert Louis Stevenson put it beautifully:

"How do you like to go up in a swing,
Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
Ever a child can do!

Up in the air and over the wall,
"Til I can see so wide,
Rivers and trees and cattle and all
Over the countryside--

'Til I look down on the garden green,
Down on the roof so brown -
Up in the air I go flying again,
Up in the air and down!"

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