Without Some Risk, Playgrounds Bore Kids


How do you get kids back outside — and, incidentally, revitalize narcoleptic neighborhoods?

You bring in risk.

This zktriizthe
New Zealand playground
was designed to give kids a lot more “wheee” — or maybe “aghhh!” — for the buck.

More than 6000 children contributed to the early stages of the playground’s development through the BNZ Amazing Place competition.They sent in their wild ideas for the ultimate playground, each dreaming bigger and better than the one before. They dreamt up “rocket lands”, dragon slides into sandpits, native fish aquariums and “dolphin rockers”.

They wanted flying foxes that went through dark tunnels and splashed down into lakes – “Every parent’s worst nightmare,” Rob says.

“Beneficial risk” is the fancy term for enough risk to kids get excited and engaged.  They are simultaneously learning  how to push themselves (to the point where it’s scary) and hold themselves back (from the point where it gets too out of control). Those are lessons even anyone adult (particularly those investing in stocks) should learn.

But it’s really a lesson for cities and towns. You can’t just build a playground and hope that people will come. Look around and you’ll see enough empty playgrounds to figure that out.

A playground must entice the kids with something more than a red, blue and yellow climbing structure. And the reason it has to entice kids is that kids entice other kids — the best playthings of all. And a city teeming with kids is a city teeming with life.

Which is the perfect segue to the fact that TOMORROW is “Take Our Children to the Park…and Leave Them There” Day. Even if you don’t care one whit about kids having fun and learning how to play, think of your property values! Towns that are safe and lively and warm (as evidenced by kids frolicking where they can be seen without X-Ray goggles) are towns where people want to live.

Send your kids out as little real estate ambassadors! – L.


Wouldn't you like your kids to be doing this tomorrow? With a lot of other kids?

Wouldn’t you like your kids to be doing this tomorrow? With a lot of other kids?



, , , , , , , ,

32 Responses to Without Some Risk, Playgrounds Bore Kids

  1. ChicagoDad May 20, 2016 at 8:31 am #

    I grew up in a small town. My favorite playground as a kid had this huge steel slide that got hot enough in the sun to melt lead. There was a creek where you could catch crawdads. I don’t remember ever seeing a parent at the park, it would have been weird. When I was about 10, I usually had to take my 5 year old brother to the park with me. We would be gone for hours, jumping over the creek, playing games, exploring the woods behind the park. It was great.

  2. Backroads May 20, 2016 at 8:48 am #

    I took my toddler to a park I visited as a child visiting my grandmother, as I now live in that neighborhood. It has a nice playground, but had been remodeled since I was young. That one had a metal merry-go-round and a stagecoach we could climb on.

  3. Workshop May 20, 2016 at 8:53 am #

    Managed risk is necessary in all areas of life.

    You drive to work, and you are quite literally taking your life in your hands. And yet, millions of people do it every day. We learn (hopefully) how to keep ourselves safe, how to watch out for distracted drivers and dangerous situations. We learn, through experience, that the guy shaving via his rear view mirror is a hazard, as is the woman who keeps looking down into her lap because she’s probably texting.

    Industrial processes necessary for modern life are around us. Oil refineries, plastic injection factories, construction, pharmaceutical manufacturing, auto repair shops . . . all have a level of risk. Every day, people manage the risk in their lives, often without even realizing it

    But the only way we get to learn how to manage risk is by experiencing it. Trying to get a bureaucrat to manage risk for you is lazy, inefficient, and will leave you with more problems than you started with.

  4. Rick May 20, 2016 at 9:59 am #

    Here’s a mother giving written permission for her kids to climb trees after a school employee told them to stop.


    “The result seems to be that our kids’ recreation time is being constrained by fear, and, worse, that this fear isn’t so much that kids might get hurt, but rather that there might be financial consequences as a result.”

  5. Donna May 20, 2016 at 10:11 am #

    My daughter absolutely loved the playgrounds in New Zealand when we were there, especially the flying foxes.

  6. BL May 20, 2016 at 10:29 am #

    “You drive to work, and you are quite literally taking your life in your hands. And yet, millions of people do it every day.”

    And if I drive off the road, and hit a tree in someone’s yard, I don’t get to sue the homeowner. (More likely I’ll get sued for damaging the yard and tree.)

  7. lollipoplover May 20, 2016 at 10:55 am #

    “At night, the playground is lit up and almost takes on a different identity, catering to people wandering home after the pub in need of a swing or a tumble down an artificial hill. In fact, this kind of after-dark patronage keeps vandalism at bay and means the space has value to a wider section of the city. The more people who use it and love it, the better.

    “There’s nobody too big or too small. People use it as they find it,” Rob says.”

    This sounds like a VERY cool park for everyone in the community.
    Imagine inviting adults back to the park instead of kicking them out and calling them perverts!

  8. Steve May 20, 2016 at 11:09 am #

    Wow, can you imagine the liability insurance that a park like this would require in the USA?

    Heres a clue; in New Zealand you cannot sue. The government gave people a choice; ‘Accident compensation commission’ or suing. The ACC was chosen and suing was abolished. If a kid has an accident in this playground the ACC fund picks up the bill.

    Thats how NZ can have nice things like this and the USA cannot.

  9. Anna May 20, 2016 at 11:15 am #

    The most exciting playground of my childhood was one we lived near during my 9th grade – and it was still challenging enough I actually enjoyed it myself when I took the younger siblings there.

    It had one of those tall structures done in rough timbers – too dangerous today! And indeed, once my younger brother scraped his stomach on the top of one and got an 8-inch or so circular patch completely full of splinters. It took quite a few hours with needle and tweezers to get them all out, but he survived and we kept on playing there. It was just so much fun that it was absolutely worth it.

  10. SteveS May 20, 2016 at 12:18 pm #

    Wow, can you imagine the liability insurance that a park like this would require in the USA?

    Heres a clue; in New Zealand you cannot sue. The government gave people a choice; ‘Accident compensation commission’ or suing. The ACC was chosen and suing was abolished. If a kid has an accident in this playground the ACC fund picks up the bill.

    Thats how NZ can have nice things like this and the USA cannot.

    It probably isn’t as bad as you think. I have helped set up non-profits and similar entities and liability insurance isn’t as expensive as some doom and gloom naysayers believe.

    Regardless, I’d rather have a civil court system instead of some nanny state, governmental commission controlling everything.

  11. John May 20, 2016 at 12:20 pm #


    “We learn, through experience, that the guy shaving via his rear view mirror is a hazard,”


    Years ago when I lived and worked in Israel, I was driving to work going south on the Haifa Highway and I had noticed in my rear view mirror that the guy driving behind me was shaving AND brushing his teeth AND combing his hair! You’d think it would actually have been easier for him to just set his alarm clock to go off 30 minutes earlier in the morning so he could shave, brush his teeth and comb his hair BEFORE he left his house!

  12. fred schueler May 20, 2016 at 12:23 pm #

    just let them loose in a car junkyard with a wrench

  13. Havva May 20, 2016 at 12:26 pm #

    “And the reason it has to entice kids is that kids entice other kids — the best playthings of all.”

    An emphatic YES to that. The playground in my neighborhood growing up wasn’t much, a few swings, a 3ft high slide, sand, a short tunnel, some monkeybars. But it was full of kids. If you were bored all you needed to do was go to the park, if someone wasn’t there already, several kids were sure to turn up in short order. The other kids were the best.

    To my surprise that didn’t turn out to be the case in my ‘nice’ neighborhood. The playground was so abandoned we had to be diligent enough about coming to permanently scare off the teens having sex on the play structure, and we had to clean out a lot of broken glass before it quit being a place to shatter beer bottles. But slowly it turned around. The immigrant families noticed first, probably because the field in the park was a popular soccer spot. So those men started bringing their families. Then, finally, the wealthier families that lived closer to the park started turning up. And families from further afield started coming while other family members were using the athletic facilities. There I think a growing acceptance of free range helped, as many parents now let their other kids play (semi-unattended) on the playground while the parents watch the little league game, or jog laps or whatever. It took a lot of diligent showing up and picking up. At times it seemed like it would have been easier to give up. But it was worth it. I watched the park make a complete turnaround in 4 years. The equipment at our park isn’t particularly special, but the ability to find other kids there is VERY special.

  14. Vaughan Evans May 20, 2016 at 12:59 pm #

    Did you ever played “Red Rover?
    It is a game that is said to have originated in England.
    The game is known by different names in other countries. (There are variations of the game; Children often improvise “house rules” to make a game free-when the children differ-in age, size or sex.

    I want to promote this game all over the world
    I never even heard of the game-until I was 29; to this date I have never played it.
    MY PLAN:
    To require the children and parents to sign a Parent’s consent form
    The form says;
    I……as a parent/and or participant-solemnly acknowledge
    -That the very fact I wish to play the game called Red Rover accept all necessary risks,
    -I am aware that there will be “undercover” players whose jobs are to give exact facts-should an injury occurs.
    -I,….must do MY share-to spread the game Red Rover all over the world.
    -I declare that the right to sue is becoming seriously abused.
    -I will NOT hold the undercover liable-for loss of self-esteem. He is a participant with a purpose-not a participant in a popularity contest.
    Note also, I have been invited to a re-union. We are making plans about what games we play.
    On July 23rd, I will play my first game of Red Rover.


  15. Vaughan Evans May 20, 2016 at 1:11 pm #

    -I live in the City of Vancouver-in the Province of British Columbia-in the Dominion of Canada.
    -West of the city limits is a wooded park-called Pacific Spirit Park.
    West of that is the University of British Columbia.
    I am 67, In 1961, I explored Musqueam park(just within the city limits-south of that is an Indian Reservation
    In 1962, I explored what is now Pacific Spirit Park. I named the Park “Discovery Trails”
    I got to know the trails. I gave the names(named after cities throughout the world(The foregoing names are obsolete. All 36 trails have been named.(often after native trees and berries)

    When I was growing up the word “bush” was becoming a dirty word.
    Mother called Musqueam Park a half-civilized bush.
    When I was 13,(in 1961) I took my brother huckleberry picking-in that part of the Park-between Camosun Street and Imperial Street.
    A little later, I took my brother–and a friend-in the western part of the future park.
    In 1974, there were plans to clear the bush-to construct housing(At that time there was a severe housing shortage.
    -But a committee was formed to Save the Lands. A poetry contest was given. A 9-year old won the contest.
    The New Democratic Government(the same one who instituted the Agricultural Land Reserve)also created Frank Buck Memorial Park.
    In 1961- and 1962, it was mainly children who played in the 1600 acre park. They played mainly near the border on West 16th. The vast interior of the park was so quiet that you could hear a pin drop.

    Now many people jog in that park. Many people bring their dogs(Although some areas either prohibit dogs-or required them to be on a leash.
    For more information, do a Google search on Pacific Spirit Park-in Vancouver, Canada.
    -NOTE; British Columbia is Canada’s Pacific Province.

  16. Vaughan Evans May 20, 2016 at 1:23 pm #

    I was very fortunate-living on a lot-of one acre in size.
    It had vine maple trees(excellent for climbing)
    I remember, I first tried to climb a tree-when I was about 8.
    I cried out to my Mom, “I can’t get down.”
    She said, If you are going to climb UP a tree, you must learn to climb down.
    -Well I DID learn, I became an excellent climber.
    Botanically speaking, a vine maple tree is a vine-not a tree.
    It has several trunks. Some go straight up-some go up at an angle.
    Near our garage, there were two vine maple trees.
    They touched one another. I liked to climb up one tree-and transfer to the other tree-and climb down.
    I taught two girls-named Robyn and Lorin-to climb that tree-and climb down the adjoining tree.

    Tree climbing comes naturally to some girls, but not to others.
    Lorin is a real tomboy. She caught on to it at once.
    But Robyn “got stuck” when she was halfway down the second tree.

    When I was 29, I met a woman at work-who had come from the Canadian Province of Nova Scotia.
    Her name was Brenda
    This girl really liked boys and men.
    She would talk to the hobos who lived in the nearby bush.
    She had an older brother whom she loved.
    When she was about 7, her mother thought it was time that Brenda should learn to climb tees.
    At fifrst, Brenda was scared about the idea.
    But then she felt that if she was going to play with boys then she would jolly well HAVE to learn to climb
    But Brenda DID learn.
    She became an excellent climber.

  17. Jason May 20, 2016 at 2:27 pm #

    Yes, in this country people would rather just complain about frivolous lawsuits up until it’s their turn to be the plaintiff.

  18. Brian42 May 20, 2016 at 2:44 pm #

    Even lawyers get physically sick of not taking any risks:


  19. James Pollock May 20, 2016 at 2:58 pm #

    For over 100 years, the point of amusement parks has been to make people think they were at risk, while not actually putting them at risk (to the best of their abilities to do so.)

  20. hineata May 20, 2016 at 2:58 pm #

    This park is part of the Christchurch rebuild, another step in reviving the city. When I was last down there a couple of years ago it was quite shocking how empty the inner city seemed, with so many of the lovely old buildings gone (though obviously not as sad as the loss of lives! 🙁 ). This sounds great, can’t wait to have a look-see in August when we’re down there for a cheerleading comp.

  21. hineata May 20, 2016 at 3:16 pm #

    @Donna – would have thought she found the driving even more exciting ☺.

    Very off-topic, but speaking of excitement, without even getting the chance to meet up with her, I can attest to Donna being an extremely capable driver. The poor woman braved the Rimutakas (basically a winding goat track, though improved over the last three years ☺) in the wind while driving the wrong way (for her).

    Speaking as half of a couple who were stupid enough to drive into Skipper’s Canyon in our own car, I can attest that a crazy car ride is WAY more exciting than any playground could be ….!

  22. James Pollock May 20, 2016 at 3:46 pm #

    I think the challenge is, you want the childrens’ playground to have “the right amount” of risk. Leaving aside the fact that this is subjectively different from parent to parent… sometimes in the same family… it’s different from child to child. A playground for toddlers should have much less risk of falling, for example, because toddlers already, well, toddle. A playground for older kids should have more risk… but then you run into the problem of making a playground suitable for all ages.

    Most parks that I’ve been in lately seem to solve this problem by having an area most suitable for pre-school-age kids, separate from an area more suitable for grade-school-age kids, and the assumption that older kids just need fields for organized sports (you don’t see many playgrounds set up for older-than-grade-school kids, because they would present unacceptable risk for smaller kids.

    So.. how do the older kids have fun? By using the smaller kids’ play areas in ways they were not intended. My grade school had a steel play structure… one side had a set of crossbars at about 6 feet high, and the other side had horizontal bars at varying heights, and a set of horizontal parallel bars. So, the way the older kids played on it was to climb up on top of the horizontal bars, and jump across to the crossbars. If you caught them, you just swung a little bit and then dropped off or monkey-barred your way to the end. If you missed, you did a face-plant from five or six feet up.

    My daughter’s grade school had something called “big toy”. Big toy has a “rope bridge” (actually steel cables) that connects two parts of the structure. You take one small child, and put them in the center of the bridge. Then, several large kids jump onto the bridge near the end. If they time it properly, the small child is launched into the air… in some cases, higher than the railings on the sides.

    Of course, everyone knows the old originals… jumping off the swings in a long-jump competition, teeter-totters as catapults, cherry-drops from horizontal bars, and walking across the tops of monkey-bars instead of hanging from them. Not that any of US did these things during school hours, of course.

    Enough people got hurt playing on playground equipment in ways that it wasn’t intended, that the engineers started trying to design out the possibility. Wood and metal play structures gave way to plastic, free swinging apparatus gave way to tethered, and everything has design features to keep you from climbing up the outside of it.

    We used to build improvised ramps and jump our bikes on them (in the days before helmets!) The kids that followed after rode skateboards and did jumps and tricks on steps, railings, and benches. The local park and recreation district had a shiny new pool that had high-dive platforms… which were strictly off-limits, so we had to make do with the 1m and 3m diving boards… I don’t know if the platforms have EVER been used, 30 years later. I assume there was a way… diving classes, maybe? Or maybe they were just used by the lifeguards before and after the pool opened to the public.

    On the other hand, there’s an area near the confluence of the Clackamas and Willamette rivers known as “high rocks” which are popular for swimming when it gets hot. We get a couple of injuries every year and a drowning about every other year. The county funds lifeguards there during the summer months now. (I think the problem is teens+dangerous activities+alcohol… remove one to vastly increase safety.)

  23. Donna May 20, 2016 at 8:08 pm #

    hineata – I’m not sure exciting is the right word for my drive in the Rimutakas. I still wonder what I did to piss the car rental guy off for him to direct me that way. My daughter just puked. She definitely preferred the flying foxes.

  24. Bronte May 20, 2016 at 8:26 pm #

    This playground is brilliant, and also the closest to my parents house. We visit it every day when we are staying with them, usually more than once. It can be seen from the letterbox.

    In the words of Mister 4 the best thing about that playground is ” running around and jumping in the tunnel” and “I like playing in the water flight”. He would ask to go any time we didn’t have anything else happening, and with two grandparents, 3 aunties and an Uncle around, he got to go a lot.

    Master 1 likes it too, there are enough swings, sand and water for him, and he is at an age where just running up and down a hill keeps him amused.

    My very gung-ho nephew (family nicknamem”Bruiser”), age 7 is cautious about the slide, because it’s so big and his siblings,Niece age 10 and Nephew age 13 love it there too because there is enough challenge.

    I love the water section, where there are water paths. The kids have to crank the water up with Archimedes screws, for the water to flow, they can create damns and flood the water path, and send water in different directions. The sort of thing country kids do down the creek anyway. We’ve not tried the flying foxes yet, as we were last there at Christmas when it opened and it was busy all the time. Over a thousand people on the playground at a time. We mostly went early in the morning and just before dinner, and it would still be really busy.

    We walked home on New Years Eve and at 1am it was full of revellers having fun trying it out.

    It’s a brilliant place and there is enough space for picnicking and a few food carts, so it is really easy for those who don’t live close to stay all day.

  25. Library Momma May 21, 2016 at 2:54 pm #

    Wow, what a playground. I’m jealous. I live in Los Angeles, and we were lucky enough to find a few relatively imaginative playgrounds within driving distance when my son was younger. One was nicknamed “Pirate Park” because the design of one of the structures mimicked a pirate ship. A few years later they rebuilt a playground near our house, and it had several netted climbing structures that seemed high to the younger kids, plus a climbing wall and shady places kids could “hide” from parents.

    My son had his share of slips and falls at playgrounds, but he had a lot of fun, too. Once, when he was swinging across the monkey bars, he fell on his back into the wood chips below. He cried for a bit, but a few weeks later he was back on the bars. And he always loved the zip line (I think that’s what they call Flying Foxes in the article). Sadly, many playgrounds nearby are fairly dull and boring, but if you drive far enough here in L.A., you can find some great ones, too.

    One of the reasons I never took him to the park and left him was because we had to drive to get to all the parks, and when he was younger, he didn’t want me to leave. Now, he’s older and thinks the park is beneath him and never wants to go, but he does stay home alone now for a few hours at a time, so he’s gaining some independence.

  26. hineata May 21, 2016 at 2:56 pm #

    @Donna – hehe, take it as a compliment…he obviously thought you could handle anything ☺.

    @Bronte – pleased to hear the 13 year old liked it…my 15 and 16 year old might have a bit of fun too then. ☺

  27. James Pollock May 22, 2016 at 1:08 am #

    We have this park, although it is not public and costs a fair bit.

  28. Donald May 22, 2016 at 2:28 am #

    Children want to and will experience the thrill of risk. It WILL happen. If they can’t get this in a playground, they will seek this thrill in ways that are not in a controlled environment. It’s safer to let them experience it in a playground.

  29. Jen May 22, 2016 at 3:52 pm #

    we’re really missing the point…those kids are in mortal danger. Their hoodies have strings. When was the last time you could find a hoodie in children’s sizes in the US that actually have strings to pull them tight and tie.

  30. Jane May 22, 2016 at 10:45 pm #

    So funny. I just can’t get enough of Lenore’s writing. FUNNY!

    Well, good news in Washington state – my local park just got remade into the riskiest, most exciting park seen in decades. Zig zag slides. Old school spinner. Zip line. Climbing spider web. It’s good.

    And the city did it by calling in Girl Scouts to have them weigh in on what they would like in a park.


  31. Yocheved May 26, 2016 at 4:26 pm #

    My daughter’s 6th grade class recently went on an overnight trip that included mountain climbing. I’m not talking about a steep trail, I’m talking about a real mountain, without pre cut hand holds or anything. My daughter came home and said “There wasn’t even a safety harness or guide ropes! We saw snakes along the way, and tarantulas! They were HUGE! We could have DIED!”

    I even asked the other parents and kids if this was true, as my daughter can be a drama queen. Yep, It was all true.

    Of course she loved it, and can’t wait to do it again.