Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Return of Monkey Bars

Good news from the New York Times.  Monkey Bars, or the Jungle Gym, apparently have value for youngsters as a playground piece of equipment.  A recent report in the Times says playgrounds may often be "too safe" without the type of equipment that allows children to understand risk as a component of safety.

My recollection is that a jungle gym was installed on the corner of the property of the primary building one summer, and it was a thrilling addition.  Climbing to the top and standing with hands in the air - but not for long - was like climbing Mt Everest the first time you did it.  And by the time you tripped over the concrete ballasts that anchored the gym but popped out of the ground because of the wear and tear of so many of us chasing around them, then knocked your head by accident on one of the bars, possibly drawing blood, you began to understand you're not invincible.

I liked the report I found in the Minneapolis Star-Trib by a writer who had taken a trip years ago to Arnolds Park at Okoboji and says: I fondly remember the fun house at Arnolds Park at Lake Okoboji in Iowa. If you didn't leave there bleeding, you weren't trying.  Bleeding is good for you.  It's one of those things you need to learn about.

We had some great swings, too, and the real daredevils like Chuck Helgeland could pump standing up, then get close to going out of control at the end of the swing path, sometimes falling because the feet would slip out and the rider would lose his grasp.  It was all heroics, showing off, I suppose, but if you could do what others could not do, that was kind of neat, wasn't it.  Like climbing the water tower in Northwood or Kensett.

I suppose the merry-go-round has been removed, too, and that ride seems like the most open-ended lesson you may ever see.   Hmmmm.  It's spinning, it's spinning fast, it gets real close to the ground over here, so I guess I'll keep my feet away from that side.  And I will climb on and get dizzy!

How many accidents happened on the playground during our grade school days we will never know, because "reporting" was not yet in the administrator's vocabulary.  But I don't recall any right off hand with a possible exception of Chuck Helgeland getting a broken arm.  Or finger.  And that may have come from playing touch football, according to the class history.

The only injury I ever suffered came not from the terrific equipment, but from mother nature's great ice slideway that formed from the melting snow that dripped off the roof and onto the slight hill that was our playground.  Everybody slid from the top to the bottom, and it was a neat cruise.  It was so neat, in fact, that one time I decided I should get down on my haunches with my knees bent, and slide that way.  And when I saw someone ahead of me I thought it would be kind of cool to actually slide under that person.

Here's where the risk/reward analysis failed me.  Whoever it was that I planned to slide under instead fell on me, so the back of my head hit the ice, and I literally saw stars.  I overestimated reward, and totally underestimated risk.  But it wasn't the playground equipment.  Should've stuck to the monkey bars!

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