A Few Thoughts Around the Playground

I’m currently between some classes and have had much more free time for long, meandering walks around the village. On most of my walks, I end up going past the playground of the elementary school in the neighboring village. I have a major love for most of the German playgrounds I’ve seen, and this one is no exception.

I grew  up going to a school that had a pretty epic playground. It was mostly built out of wood and old tires, and thus is one of the many playground that has now been deemed a complete deathtrap. Most of the places I see now in my friends’ Facebook feeds are 100% plastic, or whatever other artificial material is now deemed a ‘must-have,’ lest the Kinder injure themselves on anything natural. Splinters, run away!

The playground that I walk past laughs at such notions. Behold, one small corner….

So many rough edges!

So many rough edges!

In addition to being covered in trees, brush, stones, steps, and all manner of tripping hazards, there is at least one small pond with a railing-free bridge, and one of these bad boys…

Yep, an insect hotel. Can’t imagine too many public schools in the U.S. with open water on campus, or ones that encourage bugs to shack up.

But up until last week, these were just idle thoughts. Then I saw other things.

Thing Number One: a mom (who I had seen earlier on my walk, pushing her stroller with two twin girls all dressed in pink), holding her girls balanced on the ledge of the tower in the above picture. They weren’t infants, but they were certainly big enough to squirm the wrong way and fall out of the tower easily. Why were they up there, you might ask? Well the train was coming through, and they wanted to wave, of course! I thought it was cute, but since parents in the States can’t let their kids play in their own backyards unattended, it looked like something that CPS might get a call about if we were in a different country.

Thing Number Two: next to the elementary school there is a smaller building that houses a Kita, or nursery school. They also have a sweet little playground full of wooden toys, and yes, more water. There’s also a nice terrace and last summer I often saw the kids playing or snacking outside. Last week we had a few relatively nice days (nice for February, that is), and on one of them, I came around the corner and saw something funny out on the terrace. At first I thought it was just a big basket, but then I got closer. Not just one basket, but three, and two large pillows next to them. They were full of blankets, and yep…. sleeping kids. Five kids, napping away in what appeared to be dog beds out on the terrace.

For the record, I’m on board with this. It was a warmish day, the kids were piled up with coziness, and let’s be honest… who hasn’t looked at their dog or cat curled up in their bed and thought, ‘damn, that looks cozy!?’ But the part of me that has read far too many STFU Parents columns immediately thought… a Sanctimommy would lose. her. shit. if her Child (capital C) had to sleep in a bed for a DOG. If the kid climbed into the dog’s bed in the house? Oh so funny! Put a whole album of it on Facebook immediately! But if the school that she PAYS forces her Child to sleep in a Dog Bed! Aw, hell no.

I have no idea if this is standard practice at the average Kita, but I do love how much time the kids around here seem to spend outside. They run, they play, they get dirty. Heck, some friends even sent their kids to a so-called ‘Forest Kindergarten,’ where they spend the entire day outside, rain or shine. They did have a small shelter in the woods, but according to VillageGal, she only saw it in use once, when there was a freezing rain thunderstorm. It all just seems so much healthier, and less sterilized than so much of what school in the U.S. seems to have become.*


Editor’s Note: shortly after I published this post, I saw this article pop up in my New York Times feed. It is completely relevant to what I wrote here. Enjoy.


*Disclaimer: I am not a parent, I do not want to pass judgement on how people choose to raise their kids, these are just some observations I have had recently.



6 thoughts on “A Few Thoughts Around the Playground

  1. Preach! When i was a kid, you could break every part of your body on the playground. The monkey bars were metal pipes welded together over blacktop! Playgrounds nowadays are all bouncy rubberized plastic safe spaces. If a kid falls off of a modern set o’ monkey bars, they fricking bounce.

  2. The US has gotten insane on so much of this stuff. The things we did as kids, riding our bikes across town and being away all day.

    Too many lawyers and lawsuits in this country. There is a big difference between what folks will sue for in the US vs Germany. To only go back to a simpler time………

    • The lawsuit thing has come up in a lot of my classes and my students have done a fair bit of scoffing at the silly Americans on that front. :/
      I’m with you on going back to a simpler time in this way, but considering the U.S. seems to be heading backwards in a myriad of directions, they might get around to the playgrounds at some point.

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