Remember When Playgrounds Were Not Made of Plastic?

Remember when playgrounds were not made entirely of plastic?

I do.

The playground at my elementary school was made of wood and metal and old tires.  It had a number of sections.  There was a multi-story maze made entirely of wooden planks.  Many of these planks were splintered and charred as if someone had tried to burn them.  The charred pieces that fell to the ground were good for writing with.

The designer of the playground had taken eight or ten large rubber tires – like monster-truck-size tires -cut them in half, and placed them in a row inside the playground so that a child could crawl underneath them like a tunnel.  You could also run on top of them and jump on passerby.

In the southeast quadrant stood a three-story rusty metal cylinder in the shape of  rocket.  Children could climb up to the top of it with only cold metal rungs to keep them from falling to death or paralysis.  At the top of the rocket there was the opening to another tunnel.  This one went horizontal and was made of the same wooden planks as the charred and splintery maze.  Sitting in that tunnel three stories above the world was the only moment of zen I knew in K through 5.  I don’t remember what the other end of the floating tunnel connected to.  Maybe nothing but a certain death.

You are probably imagining the playground as having a the stereotypical concrete floor.  But the designer was not that sadistic.  Instead, the playground was filled with millions upon millions of little beige pebbles.  These pebbles were supposed to make the playground soft to play on.  The pebbles felt especially soft when they got into your sneakers, and you dropped from the monkey bars, driving the pebbles upon impact into the soles of your feet.

That playground has since been torn down and replaced with a colorful playground made of plastic and resting on rubber.  No charred splinters of wood.  No rusty metal.  No stray nails.  No pebbles.  No tires.  I am sure that the kids are much safer when they play on it during the day.  And I am sure that their parents sleep much better at night.

But I wonder…had I spent my formative recesses on the safe and colorful playground instead of the dangerous splinter trap, would I still remember it today?

0 thoughts on “Remember When Playgrounds Were Not Made of Plastic?

  1. Plastic playgrounds are horrible!! My old playground, apparently they have a new type of sand in it. Softer type. We had a fine, soft sandy sand. I have not touched or seen it up close, this new stuff, but I can only imagine some horrible rubber-sand-stuff??

    All the old swing sets are gone. Now there is one big, soft, safe one. What happened to tires and chains?? We didn’t die??

    And my cousin’s playground is even worse. They haven’t removed anything, but they have taken the slide of a tower with a ladder and slide on. They have nailed shut where the slide used to be. It mocks me!! It does feel like it makes sense to have a tower like that, but maybe kids today feel different about it, not knowing it’s secret past?

    1. I wish. Actually it was from a website that was trying to raise money to replace the old wooden playground pictured with a new plastic and presumably safer playground.

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  3. In the town I lived in as a little kid, there was a park with a great wood and metal playground. At the time I thought it was huge. about a year or 2 after I moved out of there, many parts of the playground was burned by vandals. They rebuilt it, but with brightly colored plastic “ultra safe” parts. There were always plenty of tire swings and metals slides that actually worked instead of hard plastic rings to swing on or plastic slides that only allow you to scoot down slowly, with the bottom of the slide almost touching the ground.

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