Monkey Bars Are Not the Enemy


If to a hammer, everything looks like a nail, to a pediatric surgeon, everything looks like a fall hazard.

That’s how we end up with studies like the ones discussed below, which strike fear in the hearts of parents. There’s something sickening about the way we assess everything in terms of risk all the time, without placing that risk — often tiny — in context, or looking at the risks associated with AVOIDING that risk. It’s like obsessive compulsive disorder — we feel compelled to picture disaster all the time.

It gets to be a drag. Which is why I so appreciate this yireirhzaz
sane blog post, “Monkey Business and Stupid Standards
,” by the playground guru Jay Beckwith on the Playground Professionals blog. (Boldface mine.) It begins:

I recently came across an article that pushed me over the edge: The Shocking Reason Kids are Getting Hurt at the Playground. This came only a few days after another article: Australian surgeons warn that monkey bars can cause one in five childhood fractures, that also set me off.

Play and playgrounds have always been the happy hunting grounds for well-meaning but logic-deficient do-gooders. In the first article the researcher makes the classic scientific error of confusing correlation with causation. Specifically he claims that the availability of 3G cellphone service so enhances the digital experience that parents can’t take their eyes off their phones to supervise their children. While this assertion may or may not be true, the study did not control for variables or examine any other possible causes.

The second report states “The caution follows an audit of 211 child fractures at a Melbourne Hospital, carried out by the Australian Orthopedic Research group, which found more than half the monkey bar related injuries were caused by children attempting to skip a rung or from sitting or standing on the monkey bar and falling.” They go on to state, “The research team’s initial hypothesis was that the most injuries would be caused by children standing or sitting on top of the monkey bars but that turned out to be wrong. ‘Trying to skip a rung, the forward momentum, missing the bar and landing on outstretched hands caused more injuries,’ he said.”

The problem I have with this report is that we again have the error of mistaking correlation for causation. Why is this important? These sorts of simple-minded “studies” are the grist in the mill for so called safety standards and risk management mandates that have dumbed down play settings to the point of absurdity. These errors in logic and well meaning but incendiary pronouncements need to be given critical review, if not in the press, then at least by any regulatory agency whose goal is to make play “safe.”

While the cellphone study will probably only reinforce the rampant attempts to shame parents for being regular people, the second study could well be used to ban monkey bars from playgrounds, which is already the case in many U.S. school districts. Let’s look at why this is such a huge mistake.

Do You Have Back Pain?

80% of Americans suffer back pain at some time in their lives. Back pain is the leading cause of workers’ compensation and estimates of the national costs exceed $100 billion annually.

Baby hanging from mother's thumbsWhat’s back pain got to do with monkey bars? Glad you asked. To understand my assertion we have to start at the very earliest stage, birth. Newborn babies have incredible hand strength; many can hold their full weight from the very first days.

This is not unique to homo sapiens but is true of all primates as the baby must be able to cling to the mother while she travels. The big difference between other primates and modern parents is that we tend to treat babies as weaklings, carrying them everywhere, pushing them in strollers, and buckling them tightly into their car seats.

As a result of the needless and ill-conceived over-parenting, the children’s normal physical abilities begin to atrophy. In recent years this problem has become so acute that it has become known as the “Containerization Syndrome” and is being seen clinically with increasing frequency.

My theory is that the injuries reported by the Australian surgeons correlates with the still unexplained high number of playground accidents reported byASTM and comes from the same place. We are raising our children to be motorically incompetent.

Beckwith goes on to talk about how we are built to climb and hang, which is why playgrounds MUST include climbing/hanging equipment, despite studies like the Australian surgeons’.

Today, commercial “tot” play systems are devoid of any hang by hands events.

This absence of upper body challenge for young children is akin to the oriental custom of binding girls feet so that they will fit adult’s view of beauty, and it is just as debilitating. In this case, because the child’s natural strength and spontaneous playful exercises are thwarted, when kids finally do encounter the monkey bars, they fall off and occasionally get hurt….

I urge the playground community to join hands with the health community and bring our best minds together to address playground safety in the context of the whole, natural child. We can foster an effective nationwide health and safety campaign whose only path for a cure is letting kids be kids.

What a radical idea. Let kids climb! – L.


My mom told me I can't climb because I could fall and hurt myself.

My jungle is getting rid of trees because when I climb I could fall and hurt myself.


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54 Responses to Monkey Bars Are Not the Enemy

  1. Andre L. August 24, 2015 at 7:50 am #

    I agree with almost everything on the article quoted, but I can’t let a jab at restraining car seats pass unchallenged.

    The reason child car seats are necessary is because the usual restraining method (seat belt across the torax and chest) doesn’t work with small bodies and because the small humans are more susceptible to fracture at the base of skull.

    Once again, I come across someone making valid points about misuse of certain data to push excessive and/or ineffective measures, while in the process throwing all body safety and injury prevention science in the toilet just because.

    Road vehicle-related injures are the leading cause of death and disability among children above age 5. It is a real issue, one that shouldn’t be ignored.

    As such, the write of the quoted piece loses credibility.

  2. Nicole August 24, 2015 at 8:03 am #

    I would also like to add to your argument that part of the reason so many kids get hurt falling from monkey bars is that the skill, itself, requires a certain amount of coordination and strength. Read, gross motor development. Because more and more kids are discouraged from physical activities that are a little risky, they miss out on that development. In other words, use it or lose it. I remember being annoyed when my school banned jumping from swings on the playground because other kids got hurt when they landed. And when my daughter’s school banned the monkey bars on the K-2 playground for all kids younger than 3rd grade.

    I agree with Andre about the part of the argument that mentions car seat restraints. Seat belts have saved the lives of members of my family in serious car accidents. And if there had even been seat belts in the car my parents owned in 1970, my family might not have lost my sister and the rest of the family’s injuries would have been less severe. Seat belts are proven to be effective at saving lives.

  3. JimK August 24, 2015 at 8:06 am #

    Gotta agree with Jay Beckwith, blog’s author, but then I’m that Parent, who well before cell phones, turned around to find his 4-5 year old son in the top of a 40 foot pine tree which bordered the Playground. I also let (encouraged) both my son and daughter to test themselves on whatever – and consequently spent a lot of time spotting them as they climbed on top of the swing sets etc. The other thing which is disappearing, if not already gone, is the Merry-Go-Rounds in Playgrounds. The Condo I’m at got so concerned that they had it removed. I gave it to my kids Montessori pre-school where it’s been for more than 20 years. Those kids actually go outside and have fun.

  4. Karin H. August 24, 2015 at 9:57 am #

    To the comment of Andre L.: yes car seats are necessary when used as such IN A CAR, however I would think the writer is referring to the excessive use of car seats, specifically for infants, outside of the car. People often leave the children in the car seat when visiting friends or family or going out for errands and shopping.

  5. ChicagoDad August 24, 2015 at 10:11 am #

    I really should read these posts after I’ve had my morning coffee. I read this over my first cup, and I had a random strike of parental guilt, “oh my gosh! Are my kids getting enough upper-body play time? Am I putting them at risk of arm injuries?” Then the kids woke up, started tearing through the house and climbing everything in sight. I came back to my senses.

    If you look at the monkey-bar piece in the link, the study only looked at 37 cases of Monkey bar injuries at a single hospital (37!). The article concludes, “Simple falls from couches, bikes, trampolines caused the most broken bones – 30-40 per cent” From which, I conclude, don’t ban monkey bars, instead ban falling . There. Problem solved. 😉

  6. Nicole R. August 24, 2015 at 10:17 am #

    “There’s something sickening about the way we assess everything in terms of risk all the time, without placing that risk — often tiny — in context, or looking at the risks associated with AVOIDING that risk.”

    I think this (from Lenore’s introduction) is the big point here. There is small risk of falling and breaking a bone from using monkey bars. But there is a big risk of not developing the arm strength to withstand injuries later if you NEVER do things like hang from money bars.

    And I agree with Karin H. – car seats in moving vehicles aren’t the problem. “Baby bucket” car seats that the kids stay in well past the car ride are.

  7. James Pollock August 24, 2015 at 10:20 am #

    The thing is, if you DON’T provide monkey bars, kids will attempt to turn something else from its intended purpose INTO monkey bars.

    Based on my own observations, I’d say that most playground accidents come from using the equipment in ways that were never envisioned by the people who designed and built them. If you compare public playgrounds to privately-owned playgrounds, one thing that truly sticks out is that the private ones go to incredible lengths to prevent doing something that was never intended, like climbing on the outside of a tube structure.

  8. trish August 24, 2015 at 10:23 am #

    @JimK Here’s my ONLY peeve about merry go rounds (yes, our neighborhood playground still has one). The parents need to watch but don’t touch. Most falls I’ve seen are because 1) an adult accelerates it with a jerky push or 2) Disparities of age — teenagers jumping on when it’s full of pre-schoolers and get it going to fast. If you actually leave a bunch of preschoolers alone on it, there’s rarely an injury, because none of them can get it going fast enough that they can’t hang on.

    I often think that people that complain about playground structures don’t actually bother to observe how they work. Structures designed for bigger kids often have a big first step to keep the little ones from getting on structures that aren’t designed for their limb length. IMO, parents would do better to NOT help the little ones onto the big structures if they can’t make the first step. Yes, if you help them get on a structure that’s not designed for them, then you have to hover and help them when they get stuck.

    Our playground still has monkey bars too. My 5 yo is just getting big enough to be able to reach from one to the other. We also have a backyard swing set and I spot my 3 and 5 yo when the hang from the top bar.

  9. James Pollock August 24, 2015 at 10:25 am #

    “’Baby bucket’ car seats that the kids stay in well past the car ride are.”

    I don’t see much functional difference between a “baby bucket” car seat/infant carrier and a Snugli, and the latter have been around for a very long time. For that matter, between a “baby bucket” and a stroller or pram.

  10. lollipoplover August 24, 2015 at 10:36 am #

    We have monkey bars in our backyard. Not satisfied with this *risk*, my son hammered and sawed various hand holds on our swing set (and took off the swings just leaving the chains to swing from) to create a replica of the American Ninja Warrior walls (anyone else have kids obsessed with the show?) and is now asking where he can find wood to build a salmon ladder. He’s never broken a bone or needed an x-ray.

    Our family just spend a week in the wilderness where every day the kids were in the water fishing, kayaking, and paddleboarding off a rocky beach. We had a skinned knee and some chewed up feet from not wearing the suggested water shoes. Everyone survived.

    I need more coffee to understand complex monkey bar studies. Until then, I’m sending the kids outside to go climb trees.

  11. Kimberly August 24, 2015 at 11:20 am #


    Oh, yes! My son walks around our tiny apartment trying to figure out how to design a Ninja training ground in it. Yesterday, he watched a YouTuber and his friends messing around on one of those peg boards on a wall and asked if we could put one on one of the walls.

    The schools in my area still have monkey bars for which I’m thankful. They even have the “regular” bars that I used to spend recess on doing cherry drops and various spinning activities, but the kids aren’t allowed to do those things anymore. My daughter looked at me like I was crazy at a park once when I tried to explain tying a sweatshirt to the bars to create a seat that she could sit in which would allow her to spin around the bar until she got too dizzy to continue. She didn’t understand the concept I was trying to explain because she’d never spun on the bars before.

    Just after my son started walking, I quickly learned that if I couldn’t find him, I just needed to look UP. He’s a natural climber and figured out how to maneuver over and around furniture to allow him to reach the highest points in our apartment. He’d open drawers to reach the top of the dresser, then use the dresser to reach the top of the bookshelf, then use the bookshelf to reach a corner shelf that he could climb to the top of (almost to the ceiling).

    Speaking of climbing: Our small apartment building is in the shape of a “U” with our downstairs unit being at the bottom of the “U”. There’s a staircase along one of the arms of the “U” that goes up to the second floor which is made of cement steps that are welded onto a single steel bar and a pair of hand-railings. A former tenant had left a couch behind that ended up under the staircase. If the kids stood on the couch, they could just about reach the halfway point of the stairs. I came out of the apartment one day and found the kids trying to scale the underside of the stairs, trying to reach the top steps. My son, who was about 5 at the time, was going up the stairs when he lost his grip and fell, headfirst. One of the older boys (who was only about 2 years older than him) managed to grab him by the seat of his pants and stopped his fall with only inches to spare. Until the day that family moved, we would joke about how he “saved” my son, though it probably wasn’t far from the truth.

    Thankfully, my Grandparent’s generation seemed to have a lot more sense. After the 1st Superman movie came out (with Christopher Reeve), my mom told me how the TV show with George Reeves had resulted in “a lot” of kids falling off of the roofs while trying to emulate Superman. Today, safety groups would be trying to ban the show. Instead, parents just explained gravity and physics to their kids.

  12. Kimberly August 24, 2015 at 11:26 am #

    The author of the article “The Shocking Reason Kids are Getting Hurt at the Playground” even confuses causation and correlation in her article, interchanging them like they are synonyms rather than independent scientific/statistical terms.

  13. James Pollock August 24, 2015 at 11:45 am #

    ” They even have the “regular” bars that I used to spend recess on doing cherry drops and various spinning activities, but the kids aren’t allowed to do those things anymore.”

    Cherry drops were verboten on the bars at school (in the 1970s)… when school was in session. I don’t think knee or hip spins were… I didn’t pay much attention, as, except for cherry drops, these were things girls did exclusively. There were bars at three heights, so people learned to do cherry drops on the high one first (the longer drop gives you more time to get your feet under you) then moved to the middle one. Very few moved to the short one, because they couldn’t do it.

    On the other hand, we had a big combination jungle-gym type toy. A popular game was to play tag on it, where you became “it” if you got tagged or touched the ground. Some of the kids would stand on the bar, then leap across the empty center of the toy, catching the monkey bars on the other side. When a teacher saw a student doing this, the entire toy became off-limits during recess.

    Have you ever watched high-end men’s gymnastics competition? The men (but not the women” have an event called “high bar”…

  14. Wendy W August 24, 2015 at 12:05 pm #

    @James: Part of the difference between a “baby bucket” and an snugli is that in a bucket, the child has no ability to do ANYTHING other than wave his hands and feet, with no resistance to at least provide some form of muscle development. He has no contact with a parent, and is flat on his back, sometimes leading to a misshapen head. In a snugli, or least in an anatomically correct sling, his body is in a natural position, he has the ability to use his hands to pull on mama, his feet to push against mom’s body, and has face to face contact at all times. In a stroller an infant can lay on his stomach and roll somewhat.

    I’ve wondered why horizontal ladder monkey bars have been redesigned into so many different styles. It never occurred to me before that it might be intentional to keep kids from hanging by their knees or performing other stunts.

    When we moved into our home, our basement was unfinished with exposed trusses at the ceiling. My 7yo son would climb up on the windowsills and use the beams to cross the room just like a monkey bar. Kids are made to climb and should be allowed to.

  15. Warren August 24, 2015 at 12:26 pm #

    Has anyone done a study on these playground victims, as to their intentions for once they are healed and ready to go. Most kids, including the ones I raised, always were chomping at the bit to get right back out there. They were target fixated on doing the same thing again, without getting hurt. Like it was a personal challenge to correct their failure the first time.

    Youth is the time to take risks, the time to get injured, the time to learn. Because when you get older a few things come into play.
    1. We do not heal nearly as fast, as we did.
    2. We have to go to work the next day.

  16. Rook August 24, 2015 at 12:50 pm #

    Heheh, I’m in the same boat as ChicagoDad. At first, I was worried my toddler wasn’t getting enough body building exercises because we couldn’t afford complicated and over-priced play sets. Then I had to go pull him off the top of the furniture and I didn’t worry about it as much. We’ve got a lot of trees and some nearby parks have some big rocks. My kid should get plenty of climbing experience. He’s strong as an ox anyway and monkeys around a lot.

  17. Suzanne August 24, 2015 at 12:53 pm #

    Those of you chasing the car seat rabbit: I do not think it was a jab at car seats use in moving cars or the necessity of car seats for vehicular travel, but directed toward all of the time one sees babies buckled tightly in a car seat OUT of the car.

  18. Barbara August 24, 2015 at 1:06 pm #

    Since my son was “old enough” (8-9 years old) to be bored on playgrounds designed for his “age group”, I have allowed him to use play equipment “not as it was designed”…you know, swinging on the monkey bars or skipping a rung or two, climbing up the slide, hopping off the “taller” deck, jumping off a swing in motion….that sort of thing.
    And for about 4 years now (he’s 15), he has been doing Parkour. He still goes to playgrounds and uses equipment “not as it was intended”. But beyond that, the “world” becomes a playground: he vaults over benches and walls, swings on overhangs and beams, balances on handrails, etc. It’s kind of amazing to watch.
    “Could” it be “dangerous”…maybe…but the thing is, play is about testing one self while having fun and learning not about being 100% “safe”.
    I have always told him that should he injure himself though this type of play, it is not the fault of the equipment and not the fault of the city or park owner but rather his responsibility. I have encouraged him not push “it” too far beyond where he feels comfortable but I have also encouraged him to try new things.
    And you want to hear a “secret”…..I am a playground designer…..

  19. John August 24, 2015 at 1:27 pm #

    @Barbara…..interesting Barbara! Has your son ever thought of gymnastics? Most schools don’t offer it but perhaps he could find somewhere in your community that does. My grand nephew did.

  20. Anna August 24, 2015 at 1:38 pm #

    “I don’t see much functional difference between a “baby bucket” car seat/infant carrier and a Snugli, and the latter have been around for a very long time. For that matter, between a “baby bucket” and a stroller or pram.”

    Difference between an infant seat and Snugli: the parent is going to get uncomfortable/want to do something that can’t be done with baby there, so the baby doesn’t end up spending nearly as much time in it as he might in a carrier.

    Difference between infant seat and (old-fashioned) prams/strollers: the latter were so huge and unwieldy they were really only used for outdoor walks and back-yard naps (back when that was the done thing), so kids ended up walking places on their own two feet with the family much sooner. At least that was certainly the case in my family: we had one of those giant prams like you see in old movies, and “umbrella strollers” were an exciting novelty when our youngest sibling was little.

  21. James Pollock August 24, 2015 at 2:27 pm #

    “Difference between infant seat and (old-fashioned) prams/strollers: the latter were so huge and unwieldy they were really only used for outdoor walks and back-yard naps (back when that was the done thing), so kids ended up walking places on their own two feet with the family much sooner.”

    I think you missed the point. Strollers (and prams) are used for children who can’t walk. Infant carriers are used for (surprise!) infants. Either way, you’re talking about kids who can’t walk and must be conveyed. Like most kids, my daughter wanted to be carried long after she could walk (though, obviously, walking long distances and at an adult pace was more difficult for her on her stubby little child legs.) Sometimes we’d indulge her and carry her, sometimes we wouldn’t. But the point of a “baby bucket” is to provide a way to carry an infant. The point of a Snugli is to carry an infant. The point of “Baby can hold on tight” is to carry an infant. Children who can self-mobilize are a different category.

  22. Fiddler'sWife August 24, 2015 at 2:28 pm #

    That’s so funny about the surgeon! That’s exactly what they do! I’ve gone for second opinions three times to avoid surgery (on three different body parts, decades apart) and managed to actually avoid the surgery. And each time I thought of that saying, which I knew as, “To a boy with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

    The monkey is so cute! I saw some human babies over the weekend clinging to their Daddies with that power grip they’re born with. Isn’t that one of the first things we comment to the new parents on? “Look how she’s gripping my hand! I could lift her right up!”

    And then there’s rock climbing. Isn’t it getting really popular with kids? Don’t they have it as a birthday party venue?

    Friday night I saw a little girl at an outdoor concert, the only kid among mostly-older adults. She was maybe four or five YO, doing somersaults, cartwheels and being swung by her arms by her Mom. Really physical. A candidate for karate, ballet, gymnastics, rock climbing, skiing…

    Upper body strength is really important for general health, throughout life.

    So, I vote to keep the monkey bars and jungle gyms and carousels.

    i also vote to bring back “SeeSaw, Marjorie Daw”. But I guess she’s a goner for good.

    Along with “Jack and Jill’s” hill. Hill are much too dangerous. Jack, after all, broke his crown!

    “Call for the Doctor! Call for the Nurse! Call for the Lady with the Alligator Purse!”

    But get a second opinion! Don’t let that surgeon do statistics on my Jack, or your Jill.

  23. Havva August 24, 2015 at 2:47 pm #

    Another difference with the Snugli that hasn’t been pointed out yet (and you can see it a lot when you google pictures of it), is that the parents often wind up playing with the child’s hands and feet. I used a mobie wrap, and have two pictures I printed of my daughter in the wrap at about 5 months old. In one she is playing with my hands. In the other, my husband is restraining a submarine hatch because our daughter got hold of the bar to secure the hatch with both hands and a got a foot up there too. She just wouldn’t let go. And she was pulling it toward him. There are a number of things she wouldn’t have reached, grabbed or pulled on if she had been ensconced in a protective shell.

    I also recall playing with her feet a lot. If I dropped my hands under her feet she liked to push against them and try to stand up. If my hands had an idle moment while she was in the wrap, I played with her hands or feet. I wasn’t trying to accomplish anything, it was just fun and satisfying. But it was resistance exercise, none the less.

  24. A reader August 24, 2015 at 3:11 pm #

    Yes, monkey bars causelots of injuries- broken bones, that is. Hardly the end of the world. I know very few people who haven’t broken something or another (admittedly, I’m one; though I’ve torn ligaments). Barring really freak injuries, a broken bone is not such an awful thing. It’s certainly not reason enough to ban monkey bars.
    I will also add, as someone with a child who has a mild disability, monkey bars are crucial to his development. Both his occupational therapist and his physical therapist incorporate monkey bars into their sessions. I imagine they offer something important even for typically developing kids.

  25. Librarymomma August 24, 2015 at 3:12 pm #

    My son also took Parkour classes for almost two years and before that he was in an aerial fitness class for several years. He learned to climb the silks (which are like giant scarves) and also use a trapeze.

    Even as a toddler, he liked to climb, so we took him to the park as much as possible. when he was about 3 years old, he climbed to the top level of the play structure and started to slide down the highest pole. I was terrified because it was something I was never able to do (too scared, mostly), but he slid down, laughing at his new found trick. He also liked to somersault over the bar at the top of the slide. Soon after, he started using the monkey bars and when he did slip from them, usually fell on his backside with no injuries.

    Most of the parents I’ve known whose children were injured at the playground when falling from play structures were only a few feet away, sometimes within arms length but not close enough (nor fast enough, I imagine) to catch their falling child. It would almost be superhuman to be able to do so (or really, really lucky).

  26. Michelle August 24, 2015 at 3:14 pm #

    “Specifically he claims that the availability of 3G cellphone service so enhances the digital experience that parents can’t take their eyes off their phones to supervise their children.”

    I don’t know why people are so determined to hate cell phones. The reason that I “can’t take [my] eyes off” my cell phone is because sitting by myself on a park bench doing nothing — AT LEAST once a week — gets BORING. A decade ago, I was bringing a book with me to the park. A friend of mine used to bring her knitting. On days that I’m lucky enough to have friends at the park, we’re absorbed in our conversation. As far as supervision goes, well, the only reason I’m even AT the park is because the really fun ones aren’t within walking distance. All the other days of the week the kids are at the little park without me. Considering that, I think they can manage while I read on my phone.

  27. ChicagoDad August 24, 2015 at 3:30 pm #

    @Michelle, exactly! Love it!

    The reason we have parks is so that kids can play and get exercise WITHOUT someone breathing down their necks. Otherwise, its just like another dull class or extracurricular.

    It’s the same reason we get toys for our kids. So they will have something to do by themselves or with friends/siblings. I’m too busy to sit and watch them play with Legos all afternoon.

    When I want to do something with my kids, I do something that is stimulating for all of us: do a project, build something, explore the city, go for a bike ride, etc…

  28. EricS August 24, 2015 at 3:39 pm #

    Now that is common sense, logic and reason. Everything happens for a reason. In this case it’s because kids are taught to be inept, and to believe “they aren’t good enough and will hurt themselves”. After the first few years of childhood being treated like this, and being talked to like this, it’s no wonder why many kids are very unsure of themselves. And the only reason that pops into their heads…because mom/dad said so. Their parents’ fears become their fears, and they have no idea why. It’s no different than the mental conditioning of people in the last 20 or so years. Many parents are knowingly or unknowingly conditioning their kids to be weak and fearful. Parents need to start asking themselves, “How is this going to benefit my child as he/she gets older? Will this develop them to confident, strong and successful young adults?” Think about the kids, not ourselves. And when we “fear” for the kids, it’s because it’s OUR fears. Not theirs.

  29. James Pollock August 24, 2015 at 3:43 pm #

    If I was at the park with my daughter, I’d be playing, too. I need exercise, just as much as she does. Sometimes I’d play with her (particularly if the playground was otherwise deserted), or if there were bigger kids who were too rough and not careful enough around her. Otherwise, the playground has a basketball hoop nearby, or a wall that can return tennis balls whacked at it.

    I hope I’m never too busy to play with my kid. (OK, it’s WAY easier to keep up on that commitment now that she’s away at college. Well, I have a niece who’s barely into the toddler years.

  30. EricS August 24, 2015 at 3:50 pm #

    @James Pollock: Ya know. I sometimes have to contain myself when I see parents pushing their (I’m guessing 8-9 year old, or a very big 3 year old) kid. They are so big, they don’t even fit in the stroller. But because mom and dad have coddled them for so long, it’s just a normal thing for them. With some parents I know that have done this, I ask them “why do you still keep them in there?” They say, cuz he/she doesn’t want to walk, so it makes it easier for US. Again, it comes down to the convenience of the parents, rather than what is best for the kids. Then they complain, why they refuse to walk, or sleep in their own beds.

    When I was a kid, strollers weren’t as good as they are now. They were very basic. I’m sure many here know the kind of stroller I’m referring to back in the 70s. When I was around 5, I started getting too big for the stroller, and because they weren’t very sturdy, I kept falling trying to sit in one, while my mother tried to push me and carry grocery at the same time. Needless to say, I fell out a few times. Enough times, that I finally had enough and decided to just walk. Who says falling and getting hurt isn’t a good thing. Falling and getting hurt, is one of the very first things that help you learn who you are, and consequences. lol

  31. Havva August 24, 2015 at 4:01 pm #

    “There’s something sickening about the way we assess everything in terms of risk all the time, without placing that risk — often tiny — in context,”

    And that’s how you can tell the professionals who are trained to smartly cope with risk, from the ones who are trained in minimizing lawsuits or other say orthopedic surgery who simply want to point out the risk half of the equation. To someone who recognizes there is more to the mission than just avoiding risk, it is always a “Risk — Benefit” analysis.

    Risk– minor, some fraction of children will fall and break arms and heal from these incidents in short order. Benefit– monkey bars offer safer climbing structures than a child might otherwise seek out. “Climbing, hanging, swinging, and any other high-energy activities that build strength in his upper body and core muscles are vital precursors to fine motor skills. Twisting, turning, dangling, and swinging helps develop the flexibility and agility necessary for rotating the shoulders, elbows, wrists, and fingers. Pushing, pulling, tugging, and lifting himself up builds strength while developing an intuitive understanding of simple physics such as weight, pressure, and resistance.” –

  32. Anna August 24, 2015 at 4:01 pm #

    “I know very few people who haven’t broken something or another (admittedly, I’m one; though I’ve torn ligaments). Barring really freak injuries, a broken bone is not such an awful thing. It’s certainly not reason enough to ban monkey bars.”

    Actually, now I think about it, although when I was a kid, most people broke a bone at some point in childhood – such that signing so-and-so’s cast was a frequent class custom in elementary school – that’s no longer the case. It seems to me I seldom hear of friends’ kids breaking a bone, and if I do, it’s now considered a catastrophe, rather than something that just happens.

  33. lollipoplover August 24, 2015 at 4:02 pm #

    “I hope I’m never too busy to play with my kid.”

    And I hope I’m never too judgmental of other parents who bring their kids to a park and don’t play with them.
    Many times I brought my kids to the park just to be around other kids. Because they’ve played with me all morning and I needed them to experience other playmates. Or just get fresh air and tire themselves out. Or so I could have coffee in peace and talk to another adult before I lost my mind. Or check my phone and go through endless emails from work while they played happily. But I guess that makes me an asshole. Reminds me of this site:

  34. K August 24, 2015 at 4:06 pm #

    My daughter tripped over her own feet on the way into the grocery store today and landed on her knees and hands on pavement. No blood (this time!) but her palms and knees are a little scraped. Maybe we should ban walking because kids MIGHT hurt themselves. What the original article leaves out is how many kids play on monkey bars and don’t break bones? Any activity, some kid is always going to break a bone.

    I was going to suggest Parkour too. My kids have been climbing trees since they physically were able (about 4 for my son and a little older for my less physical daughter.) My girl is 8 now and can do chin ups, which is something I’ve never been able to do.

  35. Anna August 24, 2015 at 4:38 pm #

    “Or so I could have coffee in peace and talk to another adult before I lost my mind.”

    This is me, too. Or have coffee in peace and read a book. Play on the playground equipment with my 3-year-old? No way – that equipment is built for 3-year-olds to play on. All my interference will do is teach him one or more of these things: (a) you can’t have fun unless a grown-up mediates and directs your play, (b) climbing, etc., must be fearful and dangerous since your mom is hovering as you do it, (c) parents have no interests or lives of their own, but are obliged to center their every moment on you. Since I have no interest in teaching him these things, I let him go about the business of playing on his own.

  36. theresa hall August 24, 2015 at 4:48 pm #

    maybe this is reason they use for grabbing kids over sids. if the parents cause it wouldn’t be sids then but worrying about stuff like how kids get hurt from this seem be what they do

  37. SanityAnyone? August 24, 2015 at 4:54 pm #

    It was my understanding that swinging like a monkey arm over arm (brachiation) was a useful tool for neurological organization starting in infancy, and is used by some to guard against or treat brain injured children. That was a viewpoint touted by the Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential ( in Philadelphia who work with hurt children and offer guidance in early development.

    Here is an interesting article on the muscle and coordination benefits, including an adorable swinging baby video.

  38. James Pollock August 24, 2015 at 5:14 pm #

    “I hope I’m never too judgmental of other parents who bring their kids to a park and don’t play with them.”

    Are you reading something that isn’t in the original text? Are you so used to being defensive that it happens even when you haven’t been attacked?

  39. Donald August 24, 2015 at 5:14 pm #

    Safety improvement has had come a long way since the Ralf Nader days. We find hazards by hiring people to investigate them. In short, they are in the business of finding hazards.

    We no longer have exploding Pintos but we still have people that are in the business of selling their product. (finding hazards) As with any business, they try their best to get people to purchase their product. This is how America has become the land of solutions. We have solutions (without problems) forced down our throat.

  40. Kim J. August 24, 2015 at 5:42 pm #

    My daughter’s school had a lovely set of high monkey bars. She was a climber, and never fell–she really knew her limits and walked right up to them and no further… When she was 3, she would climb up to the top of swing sets, and her preschool teachers watched her and let her.

    Unfortunately, right before she went into kindergarten, someone fell and they decided that she needed to be in 1st grade in order to use the bars. Then when she went into first grade they decided that you needed to be in 2nd grade. When she went into 2nd grade they took down the beautiful long high set of monkey bars and replaced them with a “play structure.” I do really think that if she had been allowed to swing she would have had a much easier time concentrating in class, and I also believe that she would have been much happier and more physically fit. I am still sad that the school failed my daughter.

  41. Emily August 24, 2015 at 5:56 pm #

    Another thing that nobody’s pointed out yet–how many of those monkey-bar injuries were the result of a third party using the equipment improperly; for example, one kid pushing and shoving another kid (who’s using the equipment properly and safely) out of the way? It happened to my brother–second day at a new school, he climbed up the ladder on the monkey bars to slide down the pole, and another boy got impatient and pushed him out of the way, causing my brother to land wrong and break his foot. The school responded by replacing the old playground equipment with plastic “safe”equipment, which was later removed as safety standards got more stringent. They could have just stationed a teacher or yard duty volunteer specifically to supervise the monkey bars, and maybe organized a “play safe, don’t push and shove” assembly, and sat my brother up in front of the school in his cast, if he was willing. I think that would have worked, because the other kid just wanted a turn on the monkey bars, and probably didn’t understand the consequences of his actions until it was too late. But, instead of teaching kids to use the playground safely, and making the student body a little smarter, the school chose to make the playground dumber. Does anyone else see the irony in this?

  42. Donald August 24, 2015 at 5:59 pm #

    I live next to a park. Part of the park has been closed off because it’s ‘hazardous’. It’s been surrounded by a temporary cyclone fence. (at a great cost) The hazard is that the rubberized ground (soft pour) has become torn and can be a tripping hazard.

  43. Jen August 24, 2015 at 9:19 pm #

    Our town has three old fashioned monkey bar structures and a high metal slide — all next to an un-lifeguarded waterfront. Earlier this summer when the town offered swimming lessons, some of the older boys (around 9 or 10) fashioned hammocks from their towels and helped some of the younger kids make them. I thought, “wow, that looks dangerous.” But the kids were happy and i didn’t see anyone get hurt.

    Our family sends our kids to camp (daycare really) in the summer while we are at work. Most programs have the kids moving from one activity to another all day long–and as parents we always knew where our kids would be and what they were doing every minute of the day. Mine don’t care for it. So we signed up for camp in town — it was awesome. Obviously there was some structure but mostly they got to hang out, make up their own games and play together, They walked to the food pantry to see how they could help. They shook down the general store for donations to send to deployed soldiers, went to various beaches in the area (without more than a blanket permission slip), hit a movie. . .on the last particularly hot and humid day they walked to the fire station for a tour and the firemen set up a hose and turned it on them — again, i thought. “wow, that sounds dangerous.” The kids said.. nah, only if you got too close. And at the end of each day there were stories to share about a day that i knew nothing about. EPIC!

  44. Kimberly August 24, 2015 at 11:42 pm #


    That’s a great point. I remember when my son was in Kindergarten (or right before), we were at the school after school got out. He and his sister wanted to play on the equipment for a bit. The older brother of one of my daughter’s classmates was jumping off the top of the slide with some of his friends. It was all fine until he accidentally landed right on top of my son.

    My son was hurt, but not terribly. The kid felt bad, the mother felt even worse. I chalked it up to playground antics and by the next day, it was pretty much forgotten.

  45. sexhysteria August 25, 2015 at 3:19 am #

    I wonder when people will realize that lower body challenge is necessary to develop healthy sexual function.

  46. Jeff August 25, 2015 at 10:07 am #

    At one school I used to work at, our official playground site (what was inside the fence) bordered a small dumping ground for construction materials. While the rusty stuff was behind a fence, there were large boulders of cement or some rocky substance. On the occasions the children were allowed to play outside the fence, I could watch their legs and see micro-adjustments of their feet and knees to keep themselves balanced. They also generally took care to minimize their risk to others while taking incredible risks with their own body. They were better at balancing and keeping others safe than many adults I know. Did I forget to mention that these were 3, 4, and 5 year olds?

  47. Havva August 25, 2015 at 12:12 pm #

    I was thinking about the dumbing down of playgrounds last night. Some of this was already happening in the late 80’s and early 90’s when I was a play ground age kid. When I was 10, my family took a trip to New York and I encountered a play ground with a bunch of tall climbing stuff right over pavement! I was too terrified to go near that stuff. But I was curious about the teeter totter. My sister wouldn’t play, felt too grown up for it. But my dad indulged me. Lord was I unprepared for that experience. I wasn’t holding on tight enough when dad climbed on, and just about got launched. And when my dad got off I underestimated how hard that fall was going to be. The ride itself was pretty thrilling though.

    Later when I was a teen I spotted an old play ground with an actual merry go round, and some other tallish climbing structures (over grass thank heaven). It was like something straight out of my childhood books. I was so excited I wanted to see it. So my mom dropped me off while she ran her errands. I’m not sure whether to be sad, or thankful I was the only person on the playground that day. I got the merry go round going what I thought was a moderate pace, and then hoped on. I could barely hang on, felt sick to my stomach, and was absolutely terrified I would get thrown. I realized I had no way to stop the thing and I felt like I would get hurt if I tried to hop off. So I was stuck on there what felt like forever before it slowed down enough for me to hop off. Though I did find out that going toward the middle felt a little less nauseating. But moving around on the surface was way more challenging than I thought possible in a children’s toy. After that was over and I quit feeling sick, I decided to try climbing the larger structure… turns out I have a fear of heights, at least ones that high. My mom showed up while I was up there, and and a good laugh at how slow I was about coming down. That got me thinking about other ways down, and thanks to my monkey bar experience I was comfortable enough to get myself off via a dangle and drop from about half way down. Mom asked what I had done with my time at the playground and she laughed even harder when she heard I spent most of it flat on my belly afraid to get off the merry go round. She took me for another spin to teach me to jump off.

    My near paralytic fear of this stuff was all really embarrassing. It was equipment that even non-athletic kids, like my parents, once mastered by 8 or 10 years old. But I get past my embarrassment to say what it was like, because it does shine a light on how the physical ability (or inability) of a kid is related to the experiences they are allowed (or not allowed) to have.

  48. Johnny August 27, 2015 at 9:51 am #

    I take my kids to lots of playgrounds. Almost all of them have a climbing structure, zipline thing, see saws, and or monkey bars. Where the heck to you people live that all these weird things are happening? I saw an article about NYC the other day getting ride of some things…but me thinks the lady protests too much. Lots of what you say is hyperbole.

  49. BL August 28, 2015 at 6:28 am #

    “I take my kids to lots of playgrounds. Almost all of them have a climbing structure, zipline thing, see saws, and or monkey bars. Where the heck to you people live that all these weird things are happening? I saw an article about NYC the other day getting ride of some things…but me thinks the lady protests too much. Lots of what you say is hyperbole.”

    See-saws like this?

    Climbing structures like this?

    Really? You’ve seen these in use recently? I sure haven’t.

  50. Puzzled August 28, 2015 at 7:31 pm #

    I think part of the issue is that we think kids shouldn’t get hurt. Also, saying something is the leading cause of injury is meaningless – how many injuries are there, and how serious are they? Something will always be the leading cause – fix the leading cause and something else gets that title.

  51. Tommy Udo August 31, 2015 at 7:40 pm #

    We used to play on large steel-tube structures, high steel slides, steel merry-go-rounds, swings, and horizontal bars from which the girls did dizzying spins and upside-down-drops, flipping over to their feet at the last second. We’d get the merry-go-round whirling as fast as several kids could push, then leap off to tumble head-over-heels through the sand. The swings were there to see how high we could go, past horizontal to almost upside-down, then jump free and have a second of weightlessness before plummeting to the ground. We were a group of physically strong, coordinated, and daring children. We had a hell of a lot of fun, and nobody got killed. This was in the early 1960s.

  52. Hilary August 31, 2015 at 8:40 pm #

    There’s a bit of irony in calling a blog post that cites a bunch of pseudo-science “sensible”. Lack of monkey bars is NOT akin to foot binding, nor do babies lose arm strength because we have car seats. Primate and human infants are different. It’s important to think big picture but let’s criticize with evidence.

  53. Johnny September 1, 2015 at 4:59 pm #

    Hey BL!!!

    Yes. I see playgrounds like you linked all the time.

    Most of the playgrounds with the best stuff is kompan made.