What’s missing in our playgrounds?

Every day as I drop my oldest son off at school or collect him at the end of the day I walk across a maze of white and yellow lines that mark the playground. Straight lines, perfect curves, right angles and more. My son is beginning to recognize that marks that seemed random at first actually come along with a whole set of rules that describe the lore of the playground. To me it all seem both familiar, and somewhat sterile.

Lines mark space in the playground
Lines mark space in the playground

What fascinates me about the lines is that although similar to what I grew up with, many of the games he plays are as new to me as they are to him. I am having to learn a whole new vocabulary: cherry bombs, water melons, no-holdsies and across the world.  While we played football-against-the-wall, run-across, and if the teacher wasn’t looking “British bulldog,” my son plays four-square, wall-ball and tether ball. He’s starting to learn the elaborate rules that dictated the play — passed on no doubt from one year to another with slight mutations along the way. I wonder if one day he’ll spend as much time talking about “kiss chase” as we did — not that we ever played it of course….

Four Square
Four Square

I was fortunate that our playground had more grass — fields for football, rugby in winter and cricket in summer. They also had trees we’d build bases for our tiny lego-men and hedgerows that bordered the neighboring farmers field.  The greenery and semi-wild spaces added a whole new dimension — a dimension that is lacking in my son’s urban school. As California looks to renovate the failing infrastructure of its schools, I hope it will give some thought as to how the school playground can be transformed into part of the learning environment. Some schools have made a start by incorporating vegetable gardens for the kids. Adding to these tended gardens some wild spaces — the occasional patch of untended grass, dipping pond, or miniature forest groves — would go a long way to bringing nature closer to our kids. In an era when the school day is crammed and money for busing kids on a field trip is tight, anything we can do to enrich the school environment seems like a good option for our kids, their education, and our environment.

Tether Ball
Tether Ball

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