The Design of Childhood by Alexandra Lange

The Design of Childhood by Alexandra Lange

Author:Alexandra Lange
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing

Along with an emphasis on organized activities, these playgrounds featured an abundance of equipment: architectures built purely for play. Period photographs of Seward Park in New York show a vast metal climbing frame, with hooks for ropes and swings, and boys perched on the corners, twenty feet off the ground, as if in a treetop. But reformers were divided over whether use of equipment did children any good. One described the psychological effect of swinging as “similar to getting drunk,” while Curtis derided it as “unsocial.” “It gives very little training to the eye or the hand or the judgment.”38 For girls, the swing was seen as a potential source of “voluptuous excitement.”39 Nonetheless, early twentieth-century playgrounds typically included an area for the “apparatus,” metal- and wood-framed equipment installed over a bare patch of sand, grass, or dirt. Brenda Biondo’s 2014 book Once Upon a Playground includes a number of period postcards showing gymnasiums across the United States. One in Rochester, Minnesota, from 1918 shows a metal frame hung with rings and ropes, plus a ladder and a high slide. Playgrounds in New York and Akron in 1914 had arrays of wooden seesaws in long rows, while one in Milwaukee, shown in a 1910 postcard, included a wooden rocking boat, like a precursor of amusement parks’ pirate ship rides.40 By the early 1930s, playgrounds had started to lose their staff, and their agenda. The apparatus, freely used by children, became the center of play, and manufacturers advertised their products simultaneously for their safety and their thrills. Many of these structures look terrifying to us today and in fact, in 1912, New York City removed gymnasiums from its parks because they were considered too dangerous.41 Metal merry-go-rounds, wavy slides twenty-five or thirty feet high, tilting ladders set five feet in the air, poles ringed with ropes onto which children clung, jumped, and spun: Dislocated shoulders and broken bones seem inevitable. A 1931 advertisement for the Karymor, a spinning wheel surrounded by an eight-sided bench, reads, “You can’t keep children from climbing all over a piece of apparatus. Karymor is so constructed that there is no place about the device for a child to get caught in a pinch or jam. Several State Institutions for Blind Children have installed Karymors because of the many safety features.”42 The popular Giant Stride, which had short ladders suspended from a central pole, promised ACTION! THRILLS!43 Despite manufacturer claims for safety, there were no federal regulations specifically addressed toward playground apparatuses until the 1970s. The creation of the Consumer Product Safety Commission in 1972, and the publication of 1981 guidelines for public playgrounds, changed the allowable height and distances between apparatuses as well as the type of surfacing material recommended for use underneath.44

The jungle gym has the most fascinating origin story, intersecting with the career of superintendent Carleton Washburne in Winnetka, Illinois. Physical play was an important part of the Winnetka curriculum, and the public schools shared a full-time physical education teacher. A local patent attorney


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