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Kids climbing UP the slide: Rule-followers versus 'let them climb' parents

This is a debate that's raging... OK, silently raging... in playgrounds all across America. Where do you stand? (Or, slide?)
/ Source: Today

Ever been to a playground where a kid goes rogue on the slide? Or maybe it was your kid?

Rather than climb up the steps, sit on their bottom, and face forward as they slide down in an orderly fashion, they can’t resist the temptation to run UP the slide.

There seems to be two camps of parents who witness these playful acts of rebellion: the rule followers versus the “let them climb” set.

Often, it’s the conflict between these parents — and not the kids' actions — that needs resolving.

Jennifer Lizza, a New Jersey mom of two boys ages 6 and 9, is a firm believer in letting kids play freely and use their imaginations. “Climbing up a slide does not bother me at all as long as there isn't a line of kids waiting to slide down the slide. Children should be encouraged to play without having to follow all the arrows in one direction,” she says, adding that her sons’ school doesn’t even have a slide because it’s deemed “too dangerous. We had to fight for swings.”

Lizza, founder of the blog Outsmarted Mommy, has heard moms criticize another mom — whom they didn’t know — for allowing her child to climb up a slide.

“When I said it didn't bother me they looked at me like I was crazy. One of the moms felt like this mom was letting her child ‘run wild’ and that kids ‘need rules.’ I simply responded that kids need to let out energy and play.”

"Young kids are testing personal limits because their bodies keeps changing. Once they can figure out their limit, they stay within it. Climbing up a slide as a way of experimenting," says parenting expert Heather Shumaker.
"Young kids are testing personal limits because their bodies keeps changing. Once they can figure out their limit, they stay within it. Climbing up a slide as a way of experimenting," says parenting expert Heather Shumaker.Kavita Varma-White

A self-described rule follower, Marie Stark of Bellevue, Washington, says she earned the title of “mean mom” on the elementary school playground. “I didn't care if Junior’s mom was standing right there, if a kid was climbing up the slide and there were kids waiting at the top, I'd say something.”

Though her daughters are now in high school, Stark says she cared at the time because other, usually smaller, kids were involved. “I didn’t like what seemed like the big kids, who should know better, pushing around the little ones.” (Stark acknowledges that her concern for the littlest kids may have to do with the fact she grew up as the youngest of 12 siblings.)

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My own two children were always the shy ones on the playground — my son wouldn’t slide down if there was a kid anywhere near the bottom, which is ironic given that he eventually learned to be fearless at sliding into bases in baseball. I was always thankful for that “mean mom” who would call out other kids for going what I thought was the "wrong way” up the slide.

But, really, is there a correct way to slide?

Some elementary schools have playground rules that reinforce the “climb up the ladder first, slide down second” methodology. In fact, at Quail Run elementary school in San Ramon, California, the rules for sliding are quite specific. They state:

“Students may only go down the slides seated on their bottom and facing forward. [Students] may not climb up the slides nor climb on top of the tube covering one of the slides and may use the slides one at a time only.”

At Mount Erie elementary school in Anacortes, Washington, the playground rules for slides also specify that “no stopping” is allowed while on the slide.

Obviously school playground rules are about basic safety. As third grade teacher Lisa Mawer explained, “We have got to keep them safe — we’ve seen how they collide with each other, or slide off the side. Playground expectations come from the potential dangers teachers see.”

Parenting expert Heather Shumaker actually wrote a book about this, called “It’s OK to go UP the Slide: Renegade Rules for Raising Confident and Creative Kids.” She says children are quite capable of following different rules in different places. So, they can follow one set of rules at school but play differently elsewhere. However, Shumaker thinks a lot of schools need “to rethink their guidelines for play. Some schools have a rule that you can’t run on the playground. If you can’t run, what’s the point in having play time?”

Ultimately, slides don’t come with instructions, she says. “Any kid across the globe — when it’s up to themselves, they will go both up and down a slide.”

Shumaker touts numerous benefits to going up slides, including developing big motor skills, testing their strength, balance and spatial awareness, and also social awareness and consideration. “For many kids, going up a slide is a challenge and risk: Can my body do this? Young kids are testing personal limits because their bodies keeps changing. Once they can figure out their limit, they stay within it. Climbing up a slide is a way of experimenting.”

Also, when children are allowed to interact with play equipment freely, they often develop creative, imaginative play. “If a conflict comes up — for example, another child wants to slide down — it’s a prime opportunity for kids to practice problem solving,” Shumaker says.

Sherri Skalko Hood, a Chicago mom to a 6-year-old daughter, agrees that each trip to a playground is “another chance for kids to create their own worlds where they make the rules.” Says Hood: “Sorry, I have little sympathy for the one kid out of five playing on it that wants to slide down — unless it's a younger kid or toddler. Then make way and resume.”

Instead of rules for playground equipment, Hood believes there should “be a rule for common decency, respect and fairness. If all the other kids on the slide are sliding one way, and your kid comes along and is upsetting the applecart ... then no, we're not climbing up the slide. I'm a big fan of letting kids figure it out and coaching them that way versus restricting them.”

As for adult angst at the playground slide, Shumaker says it comes from worrying about how one child’s play will hurt another kid. “As adults, we want to step in and prevent a conflict before it happens. When actually, a small conflict like this is a great way for children to interact and become aware of others. If how a child is playing on a slide is not hurting people or property, it’s OK.”

If you are the parent whose kid is climbing up, and you notice that other parents are uncomfortable, it doesn’t hurt to acknowledge their concerns. Shumaker suggests words such as “It’s OK with me if they go up the slide,” or “It seems like they are doing fine.”

“Calming words just might take their judgment away,” she says.