When is a playground not a playground?

I’m the mum at the playground or play centre who is doodling in a notebook, flicking through a magazine, fiddling with my phone, protecting my coffee mug and apparently, not paying attention to my children. I’m the one who sits in the shade, who isn’t inclined to push the swings, who doesn’t intervene in squabbles until the last moment, if at all, but will hover occasionally when little legs get a little too high on an apparatus.

Even then, when falls happen, I console but figure, if there’s noise, it’s probably OK. The shock hurts but generally, I work on the principle that, they bounce. We’ll deal with the greenstick fracture or, mild concussion when and if it happens. The only broken bone we’ve had was thanks to a rogue washing basket (on a head) in the spare bedroom.


I love watching them in an environment of play that isn’t home. What do they have a go at? How do they use the equipment or, what will they take a risk on? How far do they roam (a long way it turns out)?


When it looks like the boys are going ‘backwards’ on the play equipment, I’m learning to think laterally.

That climbing frame that looks too high or, the monkey bars that are just out of reach, that’s a learning opportunity for strength and coordination. Not to mention the determination, or co-opted co-operation as DSX gets under DSS to hoist him aloft. As only big brother’s can.

When we’re at home our yard is positively un-OHS-approved. When we go out, there seems to be soft-fall for miles, an absence of climbable trees and free space so the playground equipment or open spaces we find become a space to burn off energy, explore their limits and find their boundaries. The play is autonomous if you let it be. They will do what they want to do and that might include taking a risk. But that’s a good thing. Let the risk start in the play.

DSS is notorious for going up the slippery-dip the wrong way. He kicks his crocs off and uses those little feet for what they are designed. Creating purchase on a slippery surface. But that going the ‘wrong way’ can create conflict. Not only conflict with DSX but any other children using the equipment. This is a perfect opportunity to develop conflict solving skills. Ask, can you find a fix? Amazingly, 9 times out of 10, the children will find a solution that suits everyone.

Failure. Yes, it happens. Not succeeding in climbing up the slippery-dip teaches a lesson that as a parent I can’t stand to see but need to embrace.

Failure is part of the play. Part of life. You rarely get to the top of the slippery dip the first time. So try, try, try again.

Success! You can get to the top of anything if you persist long enough and apply a range of strategies.

I have “Be careful” as a natural response. It comes put of my mouth before I can stop it some days. I have to trust them. “Be careful’ is for me, as a parent, not for the benefit of the boys. I tell myself, it’s the risk and my trust in their judgement that grows their self confidence. They find that ‘safe edge’ often sooner than I’d expect. That’s nice to watch too.

Recently, we met with friends to walk around Canberra. We were able to travel on pedestrian and cycle paths. DSX was able to ride his scooter. At each road crossing, he would alight, take my hand and cross before re-boarding and taking off into the middle distance. At these junctions, I’d gaze ahead and give DSX a sign or visual marker to scoot toward and wait.

I’m not really sure what passersbys were thinking. But from DSX we’d hear no complaint when we finally caught up and gave the next landmark.

There were occasions when he’d get just a little too far ahead but, I reminded myself that we’ve taught DSX this routine. I also have to trust him to go to the designated point. Many occasions I’ve had to break into a run to catch him when he gets caught in his little world of enjoyment and streaks ahead. I’ve learned how futile it is to yell like a fishmongers wife. He won’t hear me with the wind in his ears.

We’ve taught road crossing and we try to impart the importance of being a well-mannered user of shared paths.

We want to keep them safe. One of my biggest wishes is that I can keep them safe from harm but, in so many ways, I also want to raise boys who will take risks knowing that they can trust their own judgement. Just no base-jumping, please?

I don’t want to be a helicopter or lawnmower parent. Maybe a lighthouse?

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