I read the most fabulous feature in Good Magazine a while ago.
They did a study on the evolution of playgrounds in the past 50 years. Turns out, that's all you can study because that's how long they've been around.
That's right: my DAD is older than the IDEA of playgrounds.
Most playgrounds today look something like this:
I think we can all agree that this playground completely sucks and is fun to play on for about...oh...5 minutes.
There's no risk playing on this thing unless you count dying from heat if you fall asleep inside it or the occasional static cling when you go down that infernal slide.
It's almost entirely safe, static and boring-- just how our soccer moms wish life was all the time.
And this was the point of the Good article, noting that these environments do not foster creativity nor a healthy preparedness for life after pastels.
But the article also pointed to a resurgence of ancient ideas of play being reintegrated into western culture. These new areas have hybrid names: Nature playgrounds, Loose Parts Playgrounds, Adventure Playgrounds, etc. But really they're just good 'ole fashioned dangerous places where entrepreneurs who care about kids let them do their thing.
They look like this:
Now, this picture is enough to make a soccer mom swallow her Doublemint gum.
These playgrounds do have supervision. But they also have completely modifiable environments and opportunities to get dirty, get hurt and the raw materials to create a whole lot of...whatever kids want to create.
Dovetail this with a conversation I had with a new friend of mine. He has had to work incredibly hard to get where he is in life and he was telling me about the tension as a father to provide a better life for his kids.
"I want them to be safe...but overcoming danger is what made me who I am today," he said.
"I love my life. I love who I am. But for some reason I would never let my kids have the same experiences I've had. It's almost like I think they can develop resilience without resistance. Or like they can become strong if everything comes easy."
He paused and then said: "I think I'm discovering that danger is good. But don't quote me on that."
As leaders, what kind of environments do we create for others? Do we create static, safe, predictable environments or do we throw our people into the deep end with the right materials (or maybe the wrong ones?) and spend more time cheering them on as they create and less time turning them off as we micro-manage tasks that were too small for them anyway?
Posted on Thu, May 14, 2009