If children today were to see the playground equipment of yesteryear, I wonder if they would want to play on it, thinking it looked intriguing, or if they would simply walk away, saying that it looked boring. I suppose that to them, it probably would be boring. There weren’t any bright colored, shiny things to play on back then, and no mazes to crawl through in search of the prize…the slide at the end. I don’t know if I think that todays playground equipment is better, or worse. Or maybe, it’s just different…more advanced and inventive. I suppose that the playground equipment of earlier years required the child to be more inventive, where today’s maybe doesn’t.
In the 1900s, there were often pipe built structures without paint…not that it seemed to matter to the kids. People have looked back on that equipment and wondered if it was even safe. Well, probably it wasn’t, but when you look at some of the modern day equipment, you wonder the same thing. Kids have been climbing on structures for as long as there have been kids. It’s what they do. If they have nothing to climb on or jump on, they will just jump on the bed. Now tell me you didn’t. I don’t know of one physically capable person who can honestly say they didn’t jump on the bed. In the 1900s, ladders were used to get the kids to the top of the tall structures. I’m sure that was part of the concern, but the rock climbing addition of today, isn’t really any safer, and kids will climb up the outside of a structure whether there is a proper way to get to the top or not. Remember, there isn’t a child alive who hasn’t thought at one point or another, that they were invincible.
Modern playground equipment is often designed as a “fitness” tool. That wasn’t really necessary in years gone by, because there really was no such thing as a “couch potato” then. Kids didn’t have hand held electronic gaming devises to occupy so much of their time, so they went outside and played games. I remember running around the yard until dark, once my homework was done anyway. We never sat still…and that was at home. All we had there was a swing set. The rest was make believe. The school had swings, a slide, and the monkey bars, as well as tetherball poles, but no ball if school was out. Still, the school was the place to play…especially in the summer, when playing there didn’t require class time too. While the tall structure with ladders of the 1900s, or even the pole swing of 1910, looked dangerous, my guess would be that there were no more injuries on it than any other type of playground equipment…but, I could be wrong. The way I see it…kids just aren’t notoriously careful.
Kids have gone to summer school for a number of reasons over the years. Some go because they got behind in school, or need extra help to keep up with their class. Some go to get ahead on their studies for an early graduation. Some go as college students, so they can graduate in a timely manner. I never went to summer school for any of those reasons. In fact I really never went to summer school at all, but I can’t say that I never spent time at the school in the summer…because I did. For me, as for most kids, there was no desire to step one foot inside a school building in the summertime, but the playground…now that was a different thing.
As I was going for a walk last night, I heard voices coming from the playground. I looked and saw a number of kids playing on the swings, the monkey bars, and the slides. I’m pretty sure that those kids, like my sisters and me, had swings and such at home, but somehow it’s just different at the school…especially when you don’t have classes, but rather just an afternoon of recess time, minus the crowds that always seemed to be around the playground equipment during the school year recess period. Half the time…unless you were the fastest runner, or were in a classroom right near the swings, or you were watching the clock so you could bolt out the door at the sound of the recess bell, you ended up being one of those kids standing in line hoping someone would get tired of the swings so that you could have a turn before it was time to head back inside. Most often, the child on the swing was taught by their parents, just like I taught my girls, “If you had it first, you don’t have to give it up.” It was a great rule, unless you were the one waiting for a turn on the swings.
Summertime on the playground was a different thing, altogether. Either we were the only kids who thought to go play at the school, or everyone came at different times, or kids were at daycare, or they were out of town, but there was never the kind of crowds you saw on a school day, and you could play on the equipment to your heart’s content. It was a great time to be a kid. As I walked on, the laughter of the kids on the playground faded, but in my thoughts, I continued to reminisce about the good old days of complete summertime freedom. Those days are long gone now, of course, and daily adult duties have replaced them. Gone are the summer days when you didn’t have a job, you could sleep in, and asking Mom if you could go to the school was usually met with an affirmative answer, because after all, you were driving her nuts at home anyway. A couple of hours of peace and quiet were a welcome change from the constant whining school kids make in the summertime, about being bored. Oh, to be bored again…wouldn’t it be grand?
As kids, one of the first things we like to do is swing. I suppose it has to do with being rocked as babies or being in a baby swing. Whatever the reason, swinging is a favorite recess pastime…if you can get on one at recess that is. Nevertheless, it doesn’t take very long for kids get bored with regular swinging, and decide that it’s time to change it up a bit.
The first thought is to go higher and higher. That provides a thrill for a little while, but sooner or later, every kid decides that they are brave enough to jump out of the swing. The first few attempts might not go do well, but with lots of practice, they soon become an expert at it. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be any more skinned knees or broken bones, but they might be fewer…and maybe further between.
I remember my elementary school days well, and while I didn’t get to the swings first very often, I did learn how to jump out of the swings at some point. I also remember the gravel on the playground, and the times I felt said gravel dig into my knees. It was no picnic. I never broke a bone jumping out of those swings, in fact, I reserved my first broken bone for my 59th year of life…not a great move, if you ask me, but there it is.
While I don’t exactly recall how many times I fell trying to jump out of the swing, I can tell you that it didn’t stop me from trying. The key is in the timing. If you jump too early, you fall, and if you jump too late, you fall. I’m sure you have a little wiggle room, but not very much. Still, with all the falling that happens when kids try to jump out of the swing, you won’t see kids in general quit trying. It’s all part of what makes the swings fun. And seriously, you only live once, so you might as well try the things that look like fun. And to kids, jumping out of the swings is where it’s at…until the next new challenge comes along, anyway.
When I think back to my childhood, I always remember the carefree times. Summers spent with nothing but time on our hands, meant swimming at the Kelly Walsh pool, sunning in the back yard, and sack lunches eaten at the park, simply because it was something different to do. Of course, back then, you could easily send your kids to the park by themselves, and they could be gone for hours, and still you did not worry. That fact worked in our favor, because we were allowed to go so many places and do so many things on our own because the world was much safer than it is today.
I remember the hours we spent at the school…the very place we couldn’t wait to get away from while school was still in session. Of course, we weren’t there for the classroom, but rather for the playground. Just a couple of months earlier, we couldn’t wait for summer to come, because we were determined not to go anywhere near that school…oh well, the best laid plans…right? Nevertheless, just as soon as you got to those swings that were so very different from the ones at home, you knew that coming to the school in the summertime was a totally different thing, and very much acceptable. It didn’t even matter if you had to bring your little sister along, and going to the park was totally ok even if your parents had to come along. Somehow, even having that parental supervision couldn’t dampen your spirits.
I’m not sure why these thoughts of summer vacation came to my mind today, other than perhaps the upcoming Christmas vacation, which is definitely a close second when it comes to the carefree days of vacation from school. I loved school, but there was just something about that break from school that always felt so amazing. I just think every kid needs a break from school, even if they love it. There will always be time for kids to work every day for the rest of their lives, but summer vacation and Christmas break…well those are just pretty much for the kids, and of course their teachers, who I consider very blessed, by the way. I think most of us would love to have their summer vacations off. Nevertheless, that said, today found me thinking about the upcoming Christmas vacation that the kids will have, including two of my grandsons. It will be a welcome break from their studies, even if they do have to work at their jobs. To the kids, I say, enjoy those days while you can, because all too soon, the day will come when you too have a job and those long vacations are a thing of the past.
I don’t know about you, but as a kid in grade school, recess was maybe the best part of the day…if you could get to the swings faster than anyone else. At the school I went to anyway, the swings were the one playground item everyone wanted to be on, and if you were a little slower getting there, you missed out. That usually meant that the younger students had to find something else to do…until they got older anyway. There was no time limit to be on the swings, but most of the kids were pretty good about swinging for a while and then getting off, but then recess was only 15 minutes long, so how much time did that leave the rest of the kids…not much.
The fight to get to the swings first, and the ultimate lose of that battle for many children, did very little to sway them from trying to get there, however. Every recess, the bell would ring, and the doors to the playground burst open as the kids ran for the swings. Of course, a few tears were inevitable, because there are always the little fights and little ones don’t always lose well, but all in all, they learned pretty quickly that the best solution to the problem, was to practice your running. The faster you are, the more likely you will end up with a swing.
This whole process goes on for a time, and then about 6th grade, which was still in grade school when I was a kid, the kids aren’t so interested in the swings anymore. They have started to mature some and look forward to being more like the kids in junior high, or middle school as it is known today. Playing on the swings was suddenly beneath them. How quickly things change. One year, you are fighting over the swings, and the next you are acting like all those little kids are so far beneath you that it is completely unbelievable.
Now flash forward a few years, and…well, I don’t know about you, but it’s funny how much fun those swings can be when you are on a date with your boyfriend. Of course, anything is romantic when you are on a date, right? In the years I dated my husband, Bob, I can’t count how many times we ended up at the park swinging on the swings like little kids. It seemed so different from those grade school days, somehow. It wasn’t nearly as juvenile as it used to be. Now it was romantic…and fun again.