I mentioned in my first post that I wanted to talk about the value of fenced playgrounds for young children from a couple of perspectives. Firstly, I’ll do so with my ‘parental’ hat on.
I have three year old twins and, luckily for me, my children aren’t ‘runners’ – I can only think of one time when one of them thought that it would be hilarious to ignore Mummy and try to scamper off down a (blessedly very quiet) cul-de-sac. However, three years of parenting has taught me that young children are nothing if not unpredictable, so I’ve never taken it for granted that, just because neither of them has tried to run away from me while in public, it will never happen. And even with my kids I have been sufficiently wary of the dangers of roads nearby playgrounds that there are several local play spots that I totally avoid if I don’t have another adult with me, because I’m not willing to take the chance.
For so many parents I know, the risk of being unable to keep their children safe at public playgrounds has a natural consequence: they feel like they can’t take their children out. This is a particular issue for parents of twins or triplets, who are dealing with two or more young children at the same developmental stage, and the twin parents I know eagerly trade information about any new, safe playgrounds that are opened. However, it’s obviously not just a concern for parents of multiples: plenty of people have two or more children under the age of five, and parents who are trying to cater for a young toddler and a three or four year old, for example, arguably have their attention even more significantly divided, given that their children might have contradictory and competing needs at any moment.
Here are what I see as the main benefits of fencing playgrounds for young children, from a parental perspective.
It protects children from nearby hazards.
I realise that this is stating the obvious, but I think it’s an important basic point to make, particularly when you consider that many New Zealand playgrounds that contain equipment designed for toddlers and preschoolers are located very close to busy roads, open water, and other potentially dangerous environments. Given that councils enforce regulations regarding the compulsory fencing of swimming pools on private properties, it’s very surprising that public playgrounds are apparently not bound by the same fencing requirements.
It separates children and dogs.
The fenced playgrounds that I’ve found in New Zealand are all dog-free zones, and I’m sure that many parents would agree that they’d prefer it if their children can play without the risk of strange dogs approaching them, and without dog poo underfoot. Dogs are wonderful and I believe that children and pets are a great combination, but I would greatly prefer to control which dogs my children encounter, and when.
It gives children the chance to actually play.
In my opinion modern parents can’t win – we get so much criticism if anybody perceived that we’re not adequately supervising our children, but nobody elicits more scorn than the ‘helicopter parent’ who hovers around, never giving their child the chance to enjoy themselves without parental involvement. In fenced playgrounds children are at liberty to roam around within the fenced territory, because their parents know that they can’t wander out onto the road, fall in water, or encounter any other hazards. When my children meet their friends for play dates at our local fenced playground they run around like little crazies, play follow the leader, hunt for Gruffalos through the bushes, and generally have an amazing time. And this kind of play gives preschoolers, in particular, the opportunity to exercise their imagination and practise their social skills, without parents getting involved.
It enables parents to talk to each other while their children play.
If you’re forced by circumstances to be a hovering parent while your children play, you have zero chance of actually conducting a semi-intelligent conversation with your parent friends, even if – like my friends and me – you’ve deliberately arranged to meet at the playground for a catch up. We talk a lot these days about how lonely parents are, and how we all need a village to help us as we raise our children. Crucial to this is the opportunity to communicate with other parents: to compare notes, to share our successes and our struggles, and to laugh together at the situations that would typically send us around the bend. Fenced playgrounds provide the setting that allows us to strengthen our bonds with our fellow parents, all while our children enjoy themselves.
It makes ‘lurkers’ very conspicuous.
I am not the kind of parent who habitually worries about stranger danger, as I totally understand the statistics and recognise the very small chance that my children will ever be accosted by anybody who wishes them harm. I’ve therefore put this particular benefit of fencing playgrounds at the end of my list, because I think it comes low down on most parents’ list of priorities (very few parents have cited it as an issue). However, there are strange people in the world, and in a fenced playground they would be easier to notice – actually coming into the playground without their children would be a big red flag.
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