Monday, December 12, 2016

A Day at the Playscape

I took my daughter to the playscape at the other day. I have been a fan of Lenore Skenazy ever since she let her son (who is now in college) take a trip on the subway, and I've been thinking about how to raise a strong and independent child for many years. Of course, now the rubber hits the road. I have a child.

The playscape at the mall has a variety of brightly colored things to climb on (and fall off of). It is an interesting place because I get to watch not only my own daughter, but the other kids and their parents. The benches for parents are all around the playscape, so the parents get to sit quite close to the kids.

I am always interested to see how involved some of the parents are in their kids play. Not that they play with them, none of them do that.
I don't tell her how to play, but I do try to
guide her to hold the sword and shield correctly.
But they advise, direct, and interfere. One woman who was sitting near me repeatedly scolded her son for trying to climb up the slide instead of sliding down it. He was playing wrong, and she was telling him how to play right.

I also often see parents helping their kids. Lifting them up to here. Taking them down from there.

I do not subscribe to this behavior. The playscape is padded structures mounted on a 6" thick foam mat. Short of wearing a helmet and safety harness, there are few places that a child could explore their abilities and experiment with a lower risk of injury, and I see this as a great thing. I can let Rowan do her thing. If she tries to leave or tries to climb over the benches to the gumball machines, I'll intervene, but otherwise, she does as she likes.

It is in this way that I took her to the playscape (indicated for ages 2+) when she was 9 months to see what she could do, and I had the opportunity to see my 23" long (she wasn't walking yet) daughter climb onto a 28" tall car-like structure and figure out how to climb out of it and make her way back to the floor safely.

The other day, she was climbing on a structure shaped like a giant caterpillar climbing over a log. IT is a difficult object to climb, and her approach to climbing it did not seem to be the best one. It is was apparent to my parental eyes that she might fall off of it. The fall would be about 8" onto a padded floor, but it would be a fall nonetheless, and she could hurt herself.

Moment of choice. Do I step in and suggest that she stop climbing on the structure or perhaps try to help her to prevent her from falling, or do I let her fall and learn from it, possibly hurting herself.

Sure enough, she did fall, and Dad swooped into action. I picked up my crying daughter and snuggled her close to me while she made that sad but adorable blubbering sound that she makes when she hasn't figured out if she is hurt or just startled yet. I held her until she calmed down enough to talk. She told me that her foot hurt, so I examined it. No blood. No redness. No swelling. And it didn't appear tender.

She did it.
A few minutes of cuddling and she was ready to get back to the playscape. She returned to the same caterpillar that she had fallen off moments before. The thought to stop her did not even cross her mind. The caterpillar had won the first round, but Rowan was not done with it. She tried to climb it again. A few minutes later, I heard her proclaim loudly "I DID IT!" as she stood triumphantly atop the caterpillar segment. I cheered. I clapped. I took a picture.

She had a great afternoon. She played on many things, and conquered many challenges. She had fallen off that caterpillar once, but we did not allow the story to end there. The story continued until she could shout "I DID IT!"

Every inspirational movie has a story arc in which things look bad and the hero gets knocked down, but then the hero gets back up and triumphs. So, why is it that when our kids fall down, we whisk them away to "safety" and don't allow them to finish their story, or, worse, never give them the chance to fall at all?