Glass Half Full: We can be safe, but don’t be too safe |

Glass Half Full: We can be safe, but don’t be too safe

Teeter-totters. Seesaws. Whatever we used to call them, they appear not to exist anymore. Have you noticed that? I don’t know when I saw the last one, but it wasn’t recently.

They’ve gone the way of merry-go-rounds and those black, rubber swings hanging from thick chains, all in a row.

My assumption is that, like so many things, all three have been removed from playgrounds for “safety” reasons.

Having conducted no research at all, other than that which comes from years on playgrounds and discussions with protective parents, my guess is that such unpredictable equipment carries with it a sense of “danger” that creates too much anxiety among many parents and those responsible for safe passage of playgrounds.

There is, of course, risk involved in the most joyous of outdoor play. When I was a child, we spent hours on merry-go-rounds, swings, and teeter-totters.

Part of the pleasure associated with the former was whipping the steel structures around as fast as possible, then either trying to jump on or off. Did kids fall off? Sometimes. The next time they learned to hold on tighter, time their jumps more carefully.

Watching a row of 10 or so swings in action provided a lovely sense of rhythm. Could an oblivious child walk in front of someone swinging and get knocked over? Absolutely, though I don’t ever remember that happening.

We learned to keep our eyes open. We also learned how to pump so high that it felt we could fly. There were those brave enough to hit that apex and launch themselves. I wasn’t one of those; I knew my limitations.

Sometimes we just laid our bellies over the black rubber bottoms of the swings and twisted around and around until we could twist no farther and our toes barely touched the ground. Then we let go and spun back until we were dizzy with delight.

And teeter-totters? They required trust and balance. We sat opposite a friend and bounced gleefully (and somewhat warily) back and forth. We learned the hard way that if the person opposite stepped off, we were in for a thudding end to the ride.

So we chose our partners carefully. Sometimes the seesaws became running targets of various games: We ran up one side and down the other, learning to judge our own weight and balance accordingly.

I understand and respect caution as a parent. It is our responsibility to provide safe environments for our children.

I contend they shouldn’t be too safe. A child who learns to watch out for swings is going to be more attuned to the movement of automobiles in a parking lot.

One who learns the limitations and possibilities of his own body on a swing or merry go round is going to apply that awareness in more situations than we can possibly imagine.

I’d like to see the return of teeter-totters. It’s all about the balance.

Ruth Glass is headmaster at Lake Tahoe School. She can be reached for comment through her blog at

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