A little while back, my youngest daughter and I popped into a local shopping centre to grab a few things. On our way in, she spotted a little playground area with some climbing equipment and a slide. The layout of the playground was actually pretty cool (especially for a shopping centre complex!) and she was delighted to have it all to herself. She climbed and swung and rolled her way around the playground while I watched. As I stood at the foot of the slide, watching her climb up, a sign on the wall grabbed my attention:
While most of the “rules” on the sign seemed fairly logical, one about halfway down really jumped out at me. “Slides are for going down, not up!”
Needless to say, I continued to watch my four-year-old climb the slide, content in the knowledge that there were no other children for her to impact and that she is an extremely competent climber, but the signage really bugged me. Now, I am by no means the first person to suggest that it is okay for children to go up the slide – a quick google search reveals several articles, and Heather Shumaker even titled a book “It’s OK to Go Up the Slide: Renegade Rules for Raising Confident and Creative Kids.” In recent years, I have become more and more aware of the great divide between parents (and parts of society such as schools, councils and other “rule makers”) around this issue.
I have raised this issue with others before and frequently been met with furious debate. There are those that value the skills and strength required to climb up the slide, as well as the freedom afforded to children in their play; while others argue that it is dangerous and that the slide was designed for going down, not up. My response to that has always been – how do we know? Who says? Why? One particularly adamant educator insisted that it was just a well-known fact of history – they are only for going down. Always one to explore things that make me curious or try to find out more about “the facts” – I took to Google (of course… how else do we find stuff out?!)
The following is from Wikipedia:
Playground slides are found in parks, schools, playgrounds and backyards. The slide is an example of the simple machine known as the inclined plane,[circular reference] which makes moving objects up and down easier, or in this case more fun.
Do you know that expression that someone looks like the “cat that caught the canary”? Well… that’s me upon reading this!
In all seriousness though, children can get hurt going down a slide. Children can get hurt going up a slide. Children can get hurt walking to the bathroom! Going up the slide requires a different set of body skills, it requires a different focus. Some children will find it challenging to go up the slide. Some children will find it easy. There will be some negotiation required between children, but you know what? They usually just work it out. I can remember being at a playground once, watching my son climbing up the slide. I was sitting back on the grass, leaving him to his play. A child came to the top of the slide to slide down, so my son (who was then around 3.5years old) hopped off and let the child slide down, then began to climb again. He worked it out. This went on for a good twenty minutes or so, with other children coming and going, some going up and most going down. Suddenly, a parent stepped in and told the children who were going up “you are not allowed to do that. It’s dangerous. The slide is for going down.” The children who had been climbing up got off the slide and a few drifted away to play elsewhere, wistfully looking back at the slide. I stepped towards the slide and let my son know that he could keep going up if he wanted to and that I had seen how careful and considerate he had been. The glare I received from the other parent was intense, but it didn’t change my mind. I was simply advocating for the way that children (and not just my own) were playing.
Signs like this one hurt my heart a little. I know that there are times we need to have rules and regulations to keep people safe. I know that there are insurance issues and fear of litigation. But I also know that children have the right to play… and sometimes that play looks different from what we might first expect!