This past Sunday, I took the family to a large local park for the afternoon. The park features one of those 1990’s-era wooden playscapes with lots of room to run and jump and climb. The kids always enjoy visiting these playgrounds. Kender is finally getting good at taking off and exploring on his own, and the older kids like practicing their parkour skills.
This week, the older kids had the opportunity for a special treat: a group of college-aged traceurs were visiting the playground for practice. These traceurs were very impressive to see in person, and for us it was our first chance to see these kinds of feats being performed live. They would practice precision jumps from a platform to a bench or wall, hold themselves out sideways like a flag from the firemen’s pole, or just do handstands. All of the young men were very nice and polite, looking out for the little kids running around them. A couple of kids came up to interact with them. I recall one young preschooler who looked like Kender, with big blonde curls all over his head, who looked like he wanted to try a particular jump. The traceur he was imitating came over and played with the kid, making him laugh and making sure he didn’t do anything to get hurt.
Which made me all the more shocked and astonished when I realized that one of the parents on the playground was trying to kick the young men out.
At first, I didn’t recognize what was going on. The father was barely older than the traceurs, dressed similarly in sweats and a t-shirt. Then I heard part of his tirade about how the playground was only for little kids. The traceurs tried to avoid conflict, gathering their belongings and moving away from the main play structure. The father then called 911, trying to get the police to come! Thankfully, they apparently blew him off.
Oh, the horror! Adults on a playground! Skilled adults, showing children how to be active and capable and healthy!
This incident is just the latest example I’ve seen of the age barriers our society is erecting around our children, barriers that seem to grow taller now by the year. When I was a child, I remember playing at recess with children of all ages, everybody at the school. I remember looking up at sixth-graders in awe, thinking how grown-up they seemed from the perspective of a second-grader. A quarter-century later, my own third-graders were told they could not play with a second-grade friend at recess. Earlier this year, my 13-year-old daughter saw a younger child get pulled out of a game of tag by her mother, with the mother saying that the younger child shouldn’t be playing with those older kids.
I see other areas where people just assume that every child should only be playing with other children of the exact same age, and something must be wrong if they don’t. This idea that started with factory-style education, separating children by birth year rather than ability in an effort to create a more efficient education system, this unnatural segregation is starting to infect every area of our culture. Even in homeschooling circles, where we usually celebrate our children’s freedom to interact with other children and adults of all ages, genders, abilities or disabilities, etc., I have seen mothers bemoaning their children’s lack of “peer” friends…even if that child has plenty of friends who don’t happen to be the same age.
I started school early, and spent my time through 10th grade as the youngest child in my class by a year or so. I went on to start college at 15 and missed being the youngest student on campus by only a few months thanks to another young TAMSter. I am really concerned by the notion that it is somehow dangerous for younger children to associate with older children or young adults. As a young adult, dealing with the stresses of growing up, I used to spend evenings on playgrounds, just moving around on the monkey bars and slides, letting my mind be occupied by the physical activity. I am concerned by the idea that an adult using a playground in exactly the same way children use the playground is suddenly somehow dangerous.
What kind of adults do we turn out, when they spent all their formative years being told, “You must only spend time with people your age, and you must only learn from certified adults who do not play like you do”? What are we losing, as a society?
I absolutely agree with you. When I was in elementary school, there was a self-contained classroom for special needs kids of high school age in the same building. My best friend was one of the boys there- an age difference of about ten years, but intellectually we were the same (I was somewhat advanced). We were great friends, he protected me from same-age bullies, and when he graduated he became our garbage man and I would leave him presents at Christmas. These days, people would probably wonder if he was abusing me or some silly thing….
I think you weren’t the youngest at TAMs by a few more months than you thought. Shelly was only 13 (though she turned 14 shortly after starting.
Wow, what a fantastic opportunity to watch those athletes in action and in interacting!!! I’ve seen some young adult males doing fantastic feats there too. It was wonderful to watch them have so much fun being in their own skin and enjoying movement.
I feel so sad that kids and adults have fewer and fewer places to play as they grow older. It’s just not right!!! My 11 year old son is going to be so sad to learn that our homeshool bounce house monthly field trip is going to fade away for him soon as I understand that don’t allow 12 year olds and up. So sad… Everyone has the right to play!!
I was just talking this out with my Mother and remembering when I was little. My recess was with everyone, all the classes and ages and sometimes you played with some younger kids and sometimes you played with some older kids. After school we changed out of school clothes into our ‘play’ clothes and we were loose in our neighborhood – kids of multiple ages.
I was told that younger children couldn’t always do what we did so to look out for them when we played with them… which helped teach us to be responsible for others. When I played with the older kids, I was learning behaviors and pushing to be able to be on their level without losing out on being a kid. You learn from those you are around no matter what age.
I think this issue of not having older children or young adults around children is one of fear. There is an idea that older children or young adults would only be around younger kids to do something bad to or with them. Whether its to harm them, get them on drugs, kidnap them or molest them… Older kids or young adults or adults are looked at with suspicion, like “What are you doing here? Why are you here? What are you trying to do?” This thinking grew in the late 80’s and early 90’s and I don’t think it has gone away. Sadly, suspicion of the older kids and young adults or adults around the playground, keeps us from allowing children to see others playing – and I think its great when kids see adults playing!
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