Outdoor play areas for kids, when large and well designed, are pretty cool places when you think of it because children can jump and hide, shout and make a mess there without being prevented or criticized, because they are unbound and can unrestrictedly learn and flourish. But, there’s more to this than meets the eye.
Watching my son play in the playground made me realize his miniature world is nothing but a society as we know it, with its group of small people though sharing common territory, interacting and identifying with one another. In the world of adults, economic hardship creates feelings of powerlessness that more often than not draw people toward dominant and decisive (however morally questionable) leaders, instead of respected and knowledgeable ones. Although some parents fail to see or hate to admit it, our and their worlds are alike, both populated by a wide variety of individuals: superior and inferior, generous and selfish, shy, modest, undemanding and sharing, creative and original, self-proclaimed gods, populist, egotistic, authoritarian leaders, common people, followers, servants (obeying only those of the upper echelon), those who play by the book or by ear, those who enjoy being in the spotlight, those who like to keep up with the Joneses or tend to keep a low profile.
Furthermore, the family with children is a form of government in which all power is vested in a single ruler, or two sovereigns, depending on whether it consists of two bad cops or a good and a bad one. Be that as it may, their authority is supreme and unquestionable so there’s no point in wondering if we are absolutists (with little patience for shades of grey), always telling our kids what to do and what not to, who to listen to, what and how to eat, when to talk, what to say, where to go and where to poo. I know the answer already.
On the other hand, it’s hard to be too giving and forgiving for many reasons. I like that my kid is bold, decisive, strong-willed and determined. B. generally likes company and it doesn’t mean that when he shows up, all present better disappear. However, his über-confident, overdramatic behavior and forceful personality can at times be quite embarrassing. He can be pretty assertive and assaultive on the swings or the seesaw or the slide for that matter where (I thought) rules of democracy abide. One thing I’ve learned in the meantime is there’s no government by the people where kids play. Consequently, just as we teach our little ones to take turns in conversation, we also need to show them how to share and how the whole turn-taking thing in the playground works. Sadly, some don’t since they obviously don’t believe in a fairer, more egalitarian society and, as someone has to, it’ll often be you if you want pushing down the slide, pulling hair, biting, and kicking to stop, whether it’s done to or by your kid. It’s not always easy to reach a truce, let alone a genuine one, but let’s say I’m more or less satisfied when it becomes bearable for all concerned or the ceasefire holds at least a few minutes…or seconds, to be more precise.
Luckily for small kids, they don’t know yet that language barriers can separate societies. By contrast, this microcosm of society is not restricted by them, among other things, because of how understanding, perceptive and compassionate children may be. They communicate on a whole different level than adults, verbalizing their displeasure both when it comes to them and their playmates, regardless of whether they know each other or have just met. Not only do they express deep awareness of the suffering of another but they also wish to relieve it, wiping their tears, hugging them or asking them or their parents what’s wrong.
Another good thing I’ve noticed spending plenty of time in the sandpit with toddles is the presence and acceptance of all the colors of the rainbow, that is an utter and complete absence of racism and xenophobia in their world. While there’s possessiveness and envy of another kid’s bigger and shinier toy, there’s no discrimination based on ethnicity, nationality, religion, appearance or disability. The society has yet to teach them hatred and prejudice, giving rise to inequality and aggression. Once they know how to properly inflict harm on each other, social integration, oftentimes achieved without a dialogue or the will to maintain peaceful social relations, will be complete. As opposed to sport and play areas, foul play is not always sanctioned in real life. Not that I blame the players. When the referee doesn’t send you off with a red card (preferably in the first half), you go on playing, with or without rules.