As I mentioned in my last post, I'm pretty hands-off at the playground. I think kids, especially my two, can generally manage for themselves. When it comes to the ideas of free range parenting, I have to backpedal some: I don't live in an area where I'd be comfortable letting my child wander, and, besides, they're only three and a half.
However, I'm not going to hold their hands through life, and the easiest application of this is the playground. Sometimes it really bugs them, too. They want me standing under the ladder as they climb it; they want my hands holding theirs while they cross the bridge. But in my book, if you can't do it by yourself, you're not big enough, and you shouldn't be doing it.
In a way, it actually requires more trust in the kids: trust that they'll recognize when something is beyond their capability. It means that when Patrick got stuck on the twirly thing at the playground yesterday, and Lilly came running to get me, I helped him get unstuck and then told him I was going back to sit down. He pouted, for a long time, about the fact that I wouldn't help him do it again.
The playground also has a climbing wall, sort of. It's more like a red tower with little steps and handholds, plenty wide enough for a foot turned sideways. Last summer, the kids learned how to climb it. Yesterday, I watched them both scale to the top, and then look down. I stifled the urge to tell them not to do that: it was unlikely that they would fall, given how tightly they were holding on, and, really, they aren't allowed to look over a "precipice"?
Lilly decided to climb back down. She put a foot on the little step near the top, and paused. She considered. She pulled her foot back up; she put it back down. She tried to twist. She stood at the top, turned around, and put her foot down backwards. She moved the other one down. She slid her hand from the bar at the top to a handhold. She made her way all the way down, climbing down as if a ladder. As soon as she reached the bottom, I went over to tell her how awesome it was that she figured out a way to get down.
A few minutes earlier, she'd been having trouble getting up. I was sitting about fifteen feet away, half paying attention to her. There were, of course, a bunch of moms clustered around the playset itself. Lilly made it up about three feet, and then fell. Flat on her bottom. Clean fall, with a little bounce thanks to the springy ground.
One of the moms darted toward her. She didn't quite reach her, but she was ready - and she was looking around for someone to care. Lilly looked over to where I knew she was; I smiled and waved. She got up, looked up at the tower, and climbed it perfectly.
Over a year ago, I wrote about the playground mentality of caretakers looking out for all the kids. I love it still. I love that that mom was aware that a child had fallen. Much as I knew she didn't need to go help Lilly, I appreciate the community: when we all look out for each other's kids, all children are freer to explore all of the world. Even if, for right now, that world is just a playground.
For a shorter and more eloquent take on this same idea of free-range playgrounds, check out Helicopter Parenting Just Isn't My Style.