Loosing My Religion (and My Worship)

I recently came across a magazine article about the advent of the very first playground in New York City. This playground was completed in 1903 in New York’s Lower East Side. The response to this novel park was astounding. Twenty-thousand children swamped the playground and its surrounding area. In what was likely supposed to be a quiet and dignified ceremony, the Mayor (Seth Low) shouted a speech in which he proclaimed, “The city has come to realize that it must provide for its children, that they have a right to play as well as work.” (Of course, labor laws at this time were such that children were not protected from becoming industrial cogs, even when they should have been free to learn and explore the world with joy and creativity).

Modern playgrounds (in the 20th century sense) were usually constructed with the theory that it was to be a place of education. In fact, according the the United Nations “Declaration of the Rights of the Child” (1959) the purpose of “play” was “to develop [the child’s] abilities, his individual judgment, and his sense of moral and social responsibility, and to become a useful member of society.” With this theory in mind, playgrounds were made using fixed parts – swings, sandboxes, seesaws, and slides. Children came to these fixed parts and had a limited number of ways in which to play on them. These were the accepted and traditional playground amenities. Through “play”, children were to learn how each of these functioned and become adept at using them. In the process, it was hoped that children would have opportunities to learn the etiquette of society: take your turn on the swings, don’t throw sand, share the seesaw, no pushing on the slide…

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