“Don’t climb up the slide!”
Sit on a bench near any playground for ten minutes, and you’re likely to hear this at least once. And it makes sense, right? Slides are for going down, we – in all our adult wisdom – can plainly see. But do kids think slides are for going down? Not yet. And should they think slides are for going down? If so, why?
One might point out that it’s a safety issue, because if some kids are going up while others are going down, there could be collisions. So true. But if what we want to avoid is the collision, shouldn’t be be drawing the child’s attention to the other children rather than the slide? After all, if it’s just the one child and the slide, a collision with another child is impossible. And there’s nothing inherent about a slide that makes climbing up it a bad idea. It’s when there are other children going down the slide that danger is present. In fact, in the case where another child is climbing up the slide (where are that kid’s parents, anyway?), your child should actually avoid going down the slide to avoid a collision.
So maybe what we should be teaching our children is to watch out for other children. That’s the useful bit of wisdom they can rely on to keep themselves and others safe. And sure, we can – and should – also teach them that the convention is for down-slide traffic to have the right of way. That when other children are waiting their turn on the ladder, we have to wait our turn too. And that when other children are going down the slide, it’s not safe for us to climb up it.
But an arbitrary rule about only using a given tool in a particular way is limiting in several ways. It cannot be generalized to other equipment (on the playground or beyond) like watching out for other children can. It cannot even keep a child safe on the slide itself in cases like that mentioned above, where other kids are not following the down-only rule. And worst of all, it cuts off the creative play process. How many genius inventions have been born out of a previous invention being used in a new, unintended way? Kids should use the things they encounter any safe way they can dream up, the more ways the better.
Safety first, yes. But smart safety. And creativity a close second.