Can a playground be too safe? This question was posed in the New York Times, which noted that some researchers are questioning the value of "safety-first" playgrounds.


“Children need to encounter risks and overcome fears on the playground,” said one. Others claim that soft playground surfaces may create a false sense of security.


What do you think? Should playgrounds provide some level of risk and opportunity for growth? Did safety requirements go too far? Where does safety come into play in a more natural environment?


This is the New York Times article:

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Isn't it a super article! Is there any definition of play that does not include an element of risk? Soft play surfaces have been proven not to reduce accidents but simply to change the type of injury that occurs. There is also some evidence to suggest that children are naturally more careful when playing on asphalt because they know the risk is higher.


I've a great quote from a 10 year in a case study "When you fall in the playground, you hit the tarmac and it hurts. When you fall in a wood, you land on soft leaves." 


Children do need opportunities to take risks - it's a core component of learning life skills for adulthood. It can happen within a framework of safety. 


Sorry - a bit of rushed response as I'm working! Thanks for posting Suz

Hi Juliet! You're so welcome.

You bring up wonderful points, both about the relative safety of natural surfaces (not to mention their tremendous play value) and about the way kids figure out their own risk/reward balance when playing. The latter seems like an aspect of healthy development to me.

I hope we get a lot more discussion going here. It's an issue of deep importance to the children and nature movement, I think, and to the ways kids play and the ways the adults in their lives understand and influence that play. We have a very lively discussion of this on our Facebook page, by the way. It's a topic of tremendous resonance.

Thanks for your contribution, as always.


Three thoughts -- a pediatric nurse practitioner in our coalition commented on how few activity related injuries she sees in kids anymore, and now many more repetitive stress injuries.  Are gameboys safe?  Are computers safe?  Apparently not.  The second is something I continue to hear from folks who visit Sweden and England and other countries that hold similar attitudes about children's play (different from what we see here at home) -- they consider these "a routine play incident."   Meaning: normal, regular.  Finally, a good friend of mine has run a nature camp called Roots and Wings in southern NH for the past 25 years or so.  I used to work for her.  I was struck (in a good way) by the direction she gives at the beginning of any play time, organized game or otherwise:  "each of you is responsible for yourselves." 

Seems that playgrounds can be too safe.

New research in the Feb. issue of Pediatrics finds that "Fixed playground equipment that meets licensing codes is unchallenging and uninteresting to children." The other main problem cited: pressure to focus on academic readiness at the expense of physically active play time. You can read more here:

I feel that modern playgrounds are not only too safe but also sterile, leaving little for a child's imagination or sense of adventure. I agree with the Times article that the old climbing bars challenged kids to overcome fear of heights, and to find out what they can physically do.

At least keep the sandbox!

I know this is an old conversation but I'm taking the chance that someone is still following. I'm wondering about folks who are planning natural play spaces and how many of them are adding "fall zones" beneath climbing structures? We're planning things like a sideways tree or boulders to climb. My team feels we need to include fall zones with protective surfacing in areas where climbing can be higher than 2 feet. How many of you feel this is really necessary? Does your organization have natural play spaces? Is this something you've done? Feel free to refer me to another conversation or person that might be able to provide insight. Thanks.


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