Thursday, September 15, 2005

Thinking Back Thursdays: Evolution of the Playground

When I took my son back to school today, after his 3-day, stomach-ailing hiatus away, I worried about how he'd do for the full day after being so weak from his illness. So, right about the time he'd be out on the playground, I had a hair appointment and chose to drive the long way there so I could drive past his school and spy on him.

As I approached the playground, I was disappointed to see his group wasn't out there yet. Instead, the playground was empty, so I took note of it. School playgrounds have changed a lot over the years. Gone are the days of merry-go-rounds, super tall slides and rusty old swings. Now, there are sport courts, lower slides, and only a few safety-coated swings.

It made me think of my playground days, years ago. There were certain factions of school kids who hung out and did certain things. And that pretty much stayed the same all through elementary school. The super-popular girls were always too "embarrassed" to do anything much, other than sit around and decide who they'd deem "uncool" for that week. But, the rest of us commoners had our little niches too, on one playground apparatus or the other.

For example, a group of the, shall we say "more worldly" girls, always hung around on the monkey bars. I would have never made it there. Aside from my overwhelming shyness and lack of interest in boys for anything other than friends until middle school age, my arms were just too darn weak to make it all the way across the bars! And walk along the top? Are you CRAZY? I never knew how those girls could just hang upside down from the very top by their legs only and not fall right on their heads. I always wished I could have mastered the monkey bars, but I doubt I could even do them today!

I was a "swinger" in the days when that word meant nothing more than reference to riding a piece of playground equipment. When I think about the daredevil things we attempted, I know now why swings are completely different in this day and age. Thick rusty chains and rubber seats were our performance props for high flying leaps in the air, twists and untwists, Superman swinging on your stomach, and of course everyone wanted to be that one person who finally swung so high that they went all the way around. We even had team stunts--sometimes one of my friends would get on one swing and pull it far to the right while I would do the same to the left and then we'd let go, purposely causing our two swings to crash into each other and wrap around tightly with both of us squealing and it wound up and then spun back out. Or you'd stand with feet into each swing hinge while another friend pushed you, like a circus trapeze artist.

I loved to swing and I actually still do today. I love the giddy feeling you get in your stomach, just like the butterflies that happen when you just start to drop on a big roller coaster. Recently, I was at a park with my son. With few parents around to see, I swung as high as I could and I showed him how I could jump off and fly through the air, just for a second. Of course, the crash that came afterward hurt a lot more than when I used to weigh 50 lbs, let me tell you! (And, was I just so STUPID to show my kid a great new way to injure himself or what?)

My son's recess is so different from my time on the playground as well. Every day, after their rushed 30 minute lunch at 10:30 a.m. (yes, that's right...a ridiculously early time), the entire kindergarten hits the playground for 30 short minutes. When I think back, I really think we had longer time to play than that when I was in school.

Plus, there are 11 sections of kindergarten this year at his school, each with 22 students. Those numbers have gone up some with a lot of the families from Louisiana coming to our area and enrolling in school. So, that means a minimum of 242 students all running around at the same time, trying to climb, swing, play tag, and so forth! A close friend's daughter, who is also a kindergartener this year at the school, told her Mom that she doesn't know what to do on the playground because there are "just too many kids, Mom." I can imagine!

With so many kids, a lot of those memorable-but-cruel playground games must be out. No "wall ball" there, no huge game of freeze-tag, and definitely none of my favorite game, "Red Rover."

Does anyone remember this one? Two captains take turns choosing a team from all the kids. When done, the group is divided into two teams that then split up across a large field. Holding arms together, wrist-to-wrist, one team calls to the other, "Red Rover, Red Rover, let so-and-so come over." The person called has to run as hard as they can and try to break through one link in the armed chain of teammates on the opposing side. If you break through, you get to take one member of the other team with you. If you don't, you're now on the other team.

The most funny thing about this game is how cruel it really was to the weaker kids. I have no idea why I liked it. I've already mentioned my lack of arm strength. But, actually, I wasn't even close to being the weakest link for Red Rover. Boy, did I feel sorry for those who were. They were constantly the ones called. The little kids with no strength whatsoever were just mangled in this game. If you were short, well expect a nice clothesline to the throat as you tried to break through. And, if you were weak, well, wherever you chose to go in the team link, the big kids always picked you to run at, breaking through at warp speed and with such a force it knocked you down and nearly dislocated your shoulder. Actually, I wonder how many serious injuries happened from this silly game over the years.

Most of all, what I remember loving so much about the playground and recess were the possibilities. In the middle of a long school day, we had almost an hour to run and be anything, do anything, and just be free. When my son tells me that recess and P.E. are his favorite school activities, I chuckle because who doesn't like that time to be free? In a day and age when kids are expected to sit still and mind so many more rules than their parents ever had to know at their age, a good run on the playground is the very least we can give them.

So, here I put it to you...

"Red Rover, Red Rover, let blog readers come over..."
Tell me, what was your favorite thing about the playground when you were a kid?


Blogger Suburban Turmoil said...

I loved the merry-go-round. And I loved using the see saw as a balance beam. And I loved the swinging "trapeze" bar. I remember swinging on it upside down, singing "Total Eclipse of the Heart" and thinking I was too cool!

3:10 PM, September 15, 2005  
Blogger Lisabell said...

I loved the monkey bars; I mastered the "penny drop", where I would swing from my legs higher and higher until I was high enough to let go, flip around, and land on my feet. Yeah, real smart.

I would DIE if I saw one of my nephews doing that!!!

5:25 PM, September 15, 2005  
Blogger Babs said...

I canNOT believe that ryan has that many kids in his grade at school!!!

Let's see, I remember loving the swings and doing your same type of tricks. Loved the see saw, especially trying to jump off at the perfect moment to make the other kid slam to the ground. (hee hee) And I loved the spaceship in MacArthur Park in San Antonio.

5:57 PM, September 15, 2005  
Blogger MommaK said...

Ooohhh good question! I loved playing jumprope and singing all of the songs we made up to jump to. I also loved "boys chase girls". Yes, that was probably my favorite ;-)

9:31 PM, September 15, 2005  
Blogger Suburban Turmoil said...

OMG. You played "boys chase the girls"? I totally forgot about that! Yes, that was my favorite, too...

10:32 PM, September 15, 2005  
Blogger Crazy MomCat said...

Oooh, Lucinda. Bonnie Tyler--loved that song! Lis, I can't believe you were miss monkey bars. I would have been so jealous of you back then!

Now, guys, explain--boys chase girls? I don't get it? Did I somehow miss that one?

10:57 PM, September 15, 2005  
Blogger Dipu said...

I have no idea what this thing was called, but it was without question my favorite playground thing ever. I never saw it at a school, but it was at the Armand Bayou Park near my house for years. No way it would be used in this day and age. It was basically a giant metal right triangle. The long side was toward the ground; the point was angled skyward. The hypotenuse had a handrail. The whole point was to clamber to the top of it.

Now keep in mind, this was a huge reflective piece of metal. IN THE SUN. And us kids loved it. The best part was if you could climb to the top without using the handrail. Yes, the ultimate was if you could use your palms, bare knees, bare arms and legs, and the soles of your shoes to stick to the angled surface a la Spider-Man. Again, remember: a giant piece of metal in the summer sun. With your bare skin used for traction.


But second, I loved the whole "swing as high as possible and then launch yourself into the air" thing.

11:34 PM, September 15, 2005  
Blogger Indigo said...

Just running around like a wild indian and having fun!

Michele sent me!

8:44 AM, September 16, 2005  
Blogger Indigo said...

Oh ... and hanging upside down on the monkey bars for long lengths of time.

8:44 AM, September 16, 2005  
Blogger Ciera said...

I never knew what to do at recess...sometimes I had friends to play with and other times I had no one. I think I liked best the times when we would play grass house know, right after the lawn had been mowed and there was all that cut grass laying around. we'd gather it up and make outlines for a house. That and swinging. :)

Here from Michele's.

9:08 AM, September 16, 2005  
Blogger Lisabell said...

Dipu - hypotenuse???? WOW, a blast from the past... is that some fancy math term or something? ;)

4:59 PM, September 16, 2005  
Blogger TC said...

I used to love the monkey bars. I practiced doing as many fancy tricks as I could on them and usually came home bruised all to heck from my attempts

5:20 PM, September 16, 2005  
Blogger yellojkt said...

michele sent me.

We used to chicken fight on the monkey bars. One kid would be on each side and both would seing out to the middle. You tried to knock the other kid off by grapping around his waist with your legs. Like all playground games, it could get pretty brutal.

9:18 PM, September 16, 2005  
Blogger scrappintwinmom said...

Wow. You just took me back. Monkey bars were cool, but I too, was never a girl to hang upside down. I LOVED the swings, and still do. Only in my day, the swings were made of slippery metal! Here via Michele today.

9:29 PM, September 16, 2005  
Blogger Angel of Music said...

The slanted merry-go-round was my favorite. And the super tall, slick, curvy slides made of metal - had to be sure to wear jeans so you didn't burn your legs on it!

Michele sent me today. :)

9:29 PM, September 16, 2005  
Blogger Angel of Music said...

Oh yeah - I remember the red rover game too - but our favorite was hide and seek. :0)

9:31 PM, September 16, 2005  
Blogger Yaeli said...

My playground used to have these big concrete cylinders that must have been some form of piping or something. When it was really hot it was so nice to sit in the cool shade on the cold cement. I loved them!

Michele sent me.

9:34 PM, September 16, 2005  

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