Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Great Playground Debate

Once again, we are faced with a decision to make. My mom and grandmother want to get a playground set for the kids for their birthday. Great! Right? Well... I am having some angst over the whole thing. Don't get me wrong, Peanut loves playgrounds. She points out every single one we pass, whether it is in someones yard, a store parking lot, or a park. I'm just not sure we need one in our backyard. I mean, we have two playgrounds at the school a block away, and have used them on holidays and weekends. There is a neighborhood playground less than a mile from here. We go on outings to nature centers and places with play equipment on a regular basis. I like the idea of meeting other families in the neighborhood at these community lots, and I like the idea of having some variety to the play equipment we use.

Beyond having lots of play equipment resources and opportunities close by, I also am intrigued by the natural play that children do with natural materials. We recently had some trees cut down and I asked the workers to leave the stumps and logs. They sliced up the logs to make stepping stones and jumping platforms. One of the stumps is the perfect height for a table, and one has become a stage. Several logs are becoming stools, cook tops, drums, and desks. At playgroup the last few weeks, the kids have devised ways to make the stumps less sticky (pile sand on top), have creating follow me games with the steps, and have explored in and around the logs climbing over and onto them. Honestly, I am afraid of losing this innate curiosity and exploration if there is a swing set with a defined purpose. I know kids will pretend that the slide is a mountain, or the swings are an airplane, but I still worry that something will be lost.

And then, there is the cost. There is a tremendous variety of quality in play sets. We have been looking at wood, and it is like shopping for a small car. I'd love to explore recycled plastics, but these seem to be even more expensive in some instances. I know, I know. I'm not paying for it, so why worry? Well, it just seems like a lot of money, regardless of where it is coming from, for something that we are not fully on board with. I've been looking at used sets on Craigslist, and have found several. I think this might be a good option as long as we can have a professional move and install it in our yard. That's one of the main criteria if we do go down this road - we are not putting it together ourselves. Too many of the online reviews have said that the assembly was the worst part and took forever. Many discussions involved adding additional support to flimsy structures from Big Box stores, which is the reason we have been looking at the "fancy" wood structures.

So what are the advantages to having a play set in the yard? Well, we can use it anytime. We can arrange it however we like - only toddler swings, a huge slide, etc. The kids can play on it while I'm doing something else in the yard, and later when they need less supervision, I can be in the house and see them from the window. I have to admit that this is really not all that appealing to me. I like to play outside with them (at least now) and don't feel a need to go inside to tackle some project. I'm sure that will change as they grow, but for now it's not a draw. Something I do really like, is the idea of sensory regulation. If someone is having a rough day and needs to get into a swing and go fast or high or furiously slide down the slide 1000 times, it would be nice to have a set in the yard. I can also see using it as an enticement to get the kids outside if they are acting like lumps.

Oh well. The debate continues on.

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