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Let them be kids!

BORING, safety-first measures have killed off the fun in children's playgrounds, according to a new study that found bringing back old-fashioned equipment improves children's activity levels.

Large, steep metal slides with a vertical ladder Flat wooden spinning roundabouts with metal grips Small enclosed apple-shaped spinners Giant climbing walls and forts Wooden see-saws rising several metres Old tyres attached to ropes Bench seat swings with long chains Old train or tram carriages Trees for climbing Billycarts and skateboards

Louisa, 8, spins happily in her local playground. Lower, circular or less steep slides Few if any rotating objects Low-to-the-ground ride-on animals on metallic springs No structure allowing a fall more than 2.5 metres See-saws close to the ground, rising to about hip height Climbing tyres at ground level Swings with safety harnesses and short chains Plastic or wooden ground-level cubby houses Structure-based rope climbing Bikes with trainer wheels, helmets and knee pads FUN police have made playgrounds boring and robbed children of the opportunity to take risks, a play equipment expert says.

Engineering lecturer Dr David Eager says parents need to let kids suffer bruises, grazes and scratches as part of their development.

Child psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg agreed and warned we could be raising a ‘‘marshmallow generation’’ prone to anxiety disorders.

Dr Eager told the Injury Prevention and Safety Conference in Melbourne that most playgrounds no longer challenged kids and stifled their independence and skills.

‘‘We’ve lost the plot,’’ Dr Eager said.

‘‘We’ve got these sterile splat playgrounds where they’re just splattered out of someone’s catalogue.

‘‘They’ve taken the fun things.

‘‘What we’ve got now is a generation of kids who don’t even know how to use a swing. The child now h a s t o h a v e s o m e o n e t o push them.’’

Most play-grounds now have swings with short chains and safety harnesses, low slides, small seesaws and roleplaying features like cubby houses rather than high climbing frames and monkey bars.

Despite Dr Eager’s claims, the Child and Youth Injury Prevention Alliance said 5000 Victorian children ended up in hospital with playground injuries in 2007.

One third were hurt on trampolines, almost three in 10 on monkey bars and one in seven on slides.

Dr Eager said safety should never be compromised, but challenge, risk and ‘‘scariness’’ were crucial.

He argued for challenging playground equipment, such as roundabouts, swings with longer chains and higher climbing walls.

Children should also be allowed to climb trees.
Dr Eager blamed the ‘‘boring’’ trend on litigation and paranoid adults.

He said parents needed to let their children graze, scratch and bruise themselves as part of learning to play within their limits.

‘‘We don’t want any kids dying on our playgrounds and we don’t want any permanent disabilities,’’ he said.

‘‘(But) the bruising, the scratch, the graze — it’s all part of growing up. We should accept it.’’

Dr Carr-Gregg said children denied risk in play didn’t develop the self-confidence to control their world.

‘‘The research shows that kids who are exposed to some risk taking actually injure themselves less than kids who haven’t been challenged enough,’’ he said.

‘‘Risk-averse parenting is contributing to the rise in anxiety disorders. There is a moral panic around risk taking that will produce a marshmallow generation.’’

Fiona Reinke yesterday took her girls Sabrina, 10, and Louisa, 6, to the local park where they love the ‘‘whizzy dizzy’’ (roundabout) and flying fox.

Ms Reinke said many parents were overprotective.

She said Sabrina loves the whizzy dizzy, despite two bouts of heart surgery.

Ms Reinke said it was great for motor skills and social development.

‘‘They can go quite fast. You’ve really got to hang on. There’s lots of open-ended play that goes on,’’ she said.

Isaac, 10, and sister Olivia, 8, yesterday scaled a Federation Square rope frame like those Dr Eager recommends.

Mum Ann-Maree, a primary teacher, said Olivia, in particular, loved being up high. ‘‘I wouldn’t stop her because I know she’s got very good upper body strength,’’ she said.

Olivia does gymnastics and loves monkey bars and climbing, while Isaac enjoys rock climbing and rope courses.

‘‘I like swings,’’ he said. ‘‘I like jumping off the swings and landing on my feet.’

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