Remember feeling weightless as you rode on a swing as a child? Remember feeling the warm sun on your face while a sky of azure looked back down on you, tempting you to touch it? I remember thinking that if I kicked enough and extended my arm beyond my physical limitations that I would feel that blue sky sifting through my hands like early morning sand.
In a modern world where we are putting restrictions on everything that could potentially be harmful to us, playground swings are the latest target with school administrators in Richland, Wash., wanting to eliminate them. “As schools get modernized or renovated or as we’re doing work on the playground equipment, we’ll take out the swings,” said Richland School District’s Steve Aagard told his local CBS station in October. “It’s just really a safety issue, swings have been determined to be the most unsafe of all the playground equipment on a playground.”
To start with, the Richland School District needs to check its research. A U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission 2001 report on playground equipment injuries found climbing structures are the where most accidents occur on public playgrounds while swings are the bigger issue on home equipment. While we are at it, let’s just stop girls from playing on the playground because they get hurt more often than boys. See where this is going? It’s crazy.
Playgrounds have drastically changed since I was a kid but they were never Thunderdomes. They didn’t have all the restrictions and warnings that they have now yet kids did, and still do, leave them relatively unscathed. You played at your own risk which was part of the fun. Yet some of us still hover like helicopters and prevent exploration and accidents from happening.
Are we raising children or bubble kids? Swings are liberating. Swings can give you that feeling that you are unstoppable. They support the idea that if you could only pump your legs in such a rhythm that you could touch the sky. Without swings, this idea will be stolen from the kids of Richland. All because kids have gotten injured, mostly by walking in front of a swing while someone was using it, according to the 2001 Consumer Product Safety Commission report .
If you’ve spent any time on the playground, like I have, you have seen this happen. Toddlers will never take a wide berth when it comes to the swings. They have no concept of what is about to happen. They only see the delight in other’s faces and the shrieks emanating from their source. Something this good is something I want to do, they think, so I am headed there posthaste. Despite this occasional accident you’ll notice a change in children who have faced the swings and lost: they never get that close again without looking. Ever.
Our attempts to overprotect our kids on the playground may not even be that successful. According to the National Safety Council, playground injuries still send more than 200,000 American children to the emergency room each year. And every year, about 15 playground accidents turn fatal.
Researchers have concluded that the material now used for cushioning their falls may actually cause more injuries because kids rely on it too much. A study in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention found that more than 80 percent of kids severely injured in falls landed on a so-called “safe” surface. The problem: the surfaces were often only one-inch deep, far less than an effective level. While playgrounds now often have rubberized flooring or shredded rubber instead of dirt or, in the case of my elementary school back in the day, pea gravel. You learned fast how to land for fear of embedding your knees with BB-sized rocks and a wipeout most certainly ended with the school nurse’s generous application of what we called “liquid sting,” otherwise known as Bactine.
I asked my 9-year-old son what he thought of a school district taking away swings. He said he didn’t know what he would do without swings. Talking with friends while gliding the time away or having a swing off to see who could go highest would no longer be an option.
“Why do they want to get rid of swings, Dad?” he said.
“Because kids get hurt when they walk in front or behind them,” I said.
“Sounds like it’s an improper education on the dangers of swings and not the actual swings that are the problem,” he said.
If getting rid of swings because kids get hit while other kids are using them is the problem, let’s go ahead and eliminate any instance where children may accidentally be hurt by another child because of some activity. Swings? Check. Slides? Gone. Monkey bars? Deathtraps. Water parks? Drain them of all the water because kids might drown you, you savages!
How about we just keep a better eye on our children and educate them to stay clear of kids on swings until it’s their turn to use one? Let’s give kids a chance to shoot for the sky and try to grab the clouds. As for me, I’m headed to the playground to enjoy a swing with my children before someone else thinks this might not be a good idea. You may want to keep your feet on the ground, but I just want to swing.
A version of this first appeared on DadNCharge.