Kids need their playgrounds

Swings, banned. Teeter-totters, banned. Slides, banned. Monkey bars, banned. Jungle gyms, banned.

Swings, banned. Teeter-totters, banned. Slides, banned. Monkey bars, banned. Jungle gyms, banned.

And the prohibition list goes on as the Greater Essex County District School Board in Ontario has taken the unusual step of phasing out traditional school playground equipment and replacing it with “naturalized playgrounds.”

All equipment that children of past generations enjoyed while letting off steam and getting a great physical workout during recess, are being declared off limits in a decision that boggles the mind.

The school board, teeter-tottering on the brink of total nonsense, proposes to replace the equipment with large hills, walking paths and grass mazes at costs reaching as high as $500,000. That’s what the board calls “naturalized playgrounds.”

Instead of occupying swings, monkey bars and other equipment, kids will now be told to take a hike.

Are we losing all common sense by forbidding that kids be kids? Has that school board lost sensibility that exercise is good for body and mind?

The board says playground equipment is dangerous, it’s not accessible to handicapped students, and the upkeep of older, rusting steel equipment is too costly.

At Anderdon school, all seven playground structures are now off limits, surrounded by orange mesh fencing. Only one will be refurbished.

Kerry Green-Durren, Anderdon’s acting principal, says “everyone is geeked” about the naturalized playground — whatever “geeked” means.

“The playground equipment’s nice, and it’s great,” said Green-Durren. “The kids have fun with that, and we’ll leave that to the community parks, and they can do that on Saturdays and Sundays. But for us, we wanted to include more students in play.”

But the idea doesn’t sit well with Jasminka Kalajdzic, a member of the school’s parent council.

“The school board has a duty to make sure kids are safe, and we accept that and we understand that,” said Kalajdzic. “But that’s where their obligation seems to end. They take no responsibility for ensuring that there are enough funds to maintain equipment properly, as far as we understand. And they certainly don’t have the money in the budget to replace the equipment that’s been condemned.”

Hopefully this ridiculous idea does not filter into other Canadian school jurisdictions.

Walking is good for health. But for robust, active children, it will not replace playground equipment that allows them to work all muscle groups in their growing bodies.

Skinned knees, bruised elbows, and the occasional broken bones have always been a reality in the playgrounds. That was to be expected while kids burned off energy and were allowed to be kids.

Is society taking the fun out of growing up by being overly-protective? Are we creating a generation of marshmallows?

There’s a danger this new approach could backfire — physically and mentally. It’s encouraging obesity by prohibiting children from burning off calories. It’s encouraging stress in the mind of a child who needs to vent frustrations through vigorous activities. Walking up big hills and down carefully groomed walking paths will not fill that bill.

And speaking of bills, the Essex County board is looking at $200,000 to implement the first phase of the new playground. It doesn’t have that money, so it’s put together a video promoting the new idea in hopes of obtaining a grant.

A similar playground is being completed at the Dr. David Suzuki Public School in Windsor, Ont., that will cost an estimated $500,000. Principal Judy Wherry says “It’s viable for any school to do this. You do need money to support it, but there are a lot of grants out there you can apply for.”

Forget the grants. Let kids be kids. To deprive a child of good, healthy fun is courting disaster.

Rick Zemanek is an Advocate editor.

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