I posted earlier today about a friend’s elementary school, which has banned recess-time soccer and football in the wake of a child’s injury while playing football. America isn’t the only place having a problem with the fact that kids take their knocks when they play. England, guided by the EU, is being encouraged to make kids soft, helpless, fearful beings too:
I am not positively advocating that we encourage our children to fall out of trees or get whanged off roundabouts moving at 200 rpm. But the scabophobic measures we have taken to protect our children have had consequences we could not have intended.
Ed Balls yesterday called for children to rediscover the joys of the playground, and the football kickaround. He painted a Brueghelian picture of children swarming to play hopscotch and tag and British bulldog, and though we all share his ambitions he could have been more honest, frankly, about the real reasons for the decline in outdoor play, and the role of government in the disaster.
Let us take the surfaces of playgrounds, the ones that used to abrade our knees. Under an EU regulation EN 1176 local authorities are advised not to install playground equipment more than three metres high, and to use soft surfacing on the ground: hence the decline in scabs.
To be fair to Brussels, this regulation is not compulsory, but authorities are so terrified of litigation that they slavishly enforce it. The measure does not seem to have made much difference to playground fatalities: there has been roughly one death every three or four years for the past 20 years.
But the surface is extremely expensive, costing £7,000 for 100 square metres, and that extra expense has certainly played a part in reducing the overall total of playground space available.
According to play expert Tim Gill, who has written a book on the subject, there are now roughly two square metres of public playground space for each child under 12, and that is not enough.
So the next time Balls wants to talk sphericals about what the Government is doing to get more children to play outdoors, I suggest he has a couple of long introductory paragraphs about the baleful effect of over-regulation and litigation – followed by a heartfelt apology for everything he has done to encourage them.
You can read the rest of the article — which also covers the fear of crime that sees British parents keep their kids indoors — here.
Incidentally, I’m not feeling too snide about what the EU is imposing on playgrounds, since we have ridiculously similar rules here. When my kids’ old school remodeled, they had to turn away thousands of dollars of free playground equipment, all in perfect shape, because of code provisions aimed at ensuring that no child ever gets hurt — or, I think, has fun. Now, as a kid who grew up on rickety swings and things that were simply planted over asphalt, I enjoy the fact that my kids’ equipment is safer nowadays, and that there is something soft beneath them. However, on every slippery slope, at some point you simply need to apply the brakes, before you find yourself lying inert at the hill’s bottom.