What Autumn Leaves Are For

Topic #28, Climb a Tree, suggests that the proper way to get out of a tree is to climb down – but there’s a lot to be said for this approach:

“That’s not safe! How do they know there are no sticks or rakes in the pile?”, someone will inevitably ask.
The correct answer to this problem is to have the kids make the pile of leaves themselves, and the correct instruction to give them is “don’t leave anything in the pile that you wouldn’t want to land on.”

Making a pile, testing it, and maintaining it over the duration of the activity is a great way for kids to take responsibility for their own safety. These kinds of play foster and reward innovation, but, like so many fun activities, they can be cruel to those with poor impulse control.

So, rather than teach kids how to explore their surroundings safely, we end up with playgrounds that come with giant warning signs:
Rules For Playground Users

My personal favorite of the rules here is “Stop the swing before getting off.” These rules constrict the forms of play allowed in the playground, and make the parents responsible for enforcing them. The first thing you see in a playground should not be a list of the things you cannot do there.

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2 Responses to What Autumn Leaves Are For

  1. Allanah King says:

    That was a magic day that day. I was on duty patrolling the playground at school when I saw about twenty children amassing the pile of leaves with a singularity of purpose. I wandered over to see what they were up to. They told me their plans and I watched as the pile of leaves grew.

    Some of the more game children were keen to jump from the branch but we came to a compromise and they swung from it. After each child had jumped they all worked together to plump the leaves once more. Those not keen on swinging from the branch ran at the pile and buried themselves in the leaves and then bunched them up again.

    I hovered to make sure that all went smoothly. The children worked out their own safety system with alternating swinging and running.

    I am really pleased I left the children to their own devices to work together and to sort out a safe way of having fun while challenging themselves.

    I could not have done a better myself and I bet that lunchtime was one to remembered for a lifetime.

    Allanah King

    Moturoa Classroom

    Appleby School

    Nelson, New Zealand

  2. Ande says:

    What’s sad is that playgrounds often have to do this. Not because they want to limit children’s fun and creativity, but because many in our society would rather sue than take responsibility for their children’s behavior.

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