When I take my kids to the park, I let my kids climb up the slide.
Some of you are gasping and shaking your fists. You’re muttering about miscreant children, no manners, and how everything is going to hell in hand baskets. The rest of you? You’re probably wondering why the hell this is news because you, too, let your kids climb up the slide or just don’t care.
But apparently, the Great Slide Debate is one of those throw-down, gloves-off, all-out mommy wars. We’ve all heard the old playground mantra: up the stairs and down the slide. And based on the responses to a Scary Mommy piece about helicopter moms ruining things for the rest of us, most parents fall into one of two camps: you’re either an up-the-stairs, down-the-slide parent, or you’re a meh-whatever-climb-on-up parent.
Chances are, you’ve already picked a side, even if you don’t know it. And God help us if you run into someone with a different idea about slide etiquette.
The up-the-stairs-down-the-slide crowd really, really hates slide-climbers. One mother said that kids who went up the slide were bullying others who would then be too shy to go down. Another insisted that if parents weren’t enforcing the rule, she had no problem telling other people’s kids not to climb the slide. “Ladders are for climbing,” said one commenter. “You’re teaching them how to interact with and in society…that is basic fundamental parenting!” And then there were a lot of commenters whose complaints fell into the lazy parenting bucket.
Let me be clear, as a mother, I know the basic playground rules: No body harm to other children, no projectiles, no sand-throwing, no sticks on the playground proper, no ridicule or bullying or cussing or peeing under the play structure. I holler at my kids to put down the sticks and not throw pinecones, and I remind them not to push or pee under the play structure (learned that lesson the hard way). But contrary to what many think, I believe half the purpose of a slide is to climb up it, not just slide down. Provided no one’s in line to go down, kids should have the chance to climb, clamber, and stumble to their hearts’ content — and these motor skills are just as important as sliding down.
This isn’t just rebel playground talk. Going up the slide stimulates the vestibular system, which includes fluid-filled parts of the ear that send messages to the brain. According to VEDA: Life Rebalanced, these messages have to do with “motion, equilibrium, and spatial orientation.” Along with vision and joints and muscles, the vestibular system plays a huge role in the human balance system. Researchers in Frontiers in Neuroscience have found that “an absence of vestibular information early in life can lead to reduced cognitive performance in several domains, as well as altered spatial cognitive representations.”
Basically, if your kids don’t get enough vestibular stimulation, they will literally think about space differently than kids who have gotten that stimulation. Absence of vestibular stimulation in children can also cause “navigation deficits,” or a reduced ability to move through the world around them and researchers posit, “Changes in the hippocampal structure and function.” Eek.
Children also need to develop bodily awareness, or what researchers call spatial awareness. According to Scholastic, that’s “an awareness of the body in space, and the child’s relationship to the objects in space.” They note that sometimes “low muscle tone can result in clumsy behavior” and that children who spend much of their time sitting tend to have “soft muscles.”
North Shore Pediatric Therapy says kids with poor spatial awareness have trouble learning new gross motor skills, like jumping jacks. “Gross motor activities rely heavily on the input children get to their muscles and joints when jumping on the ground or climbing [emphasis mine]. Since children with poor body awareness have a difficult time processing that feeling to their body, learning these activities are more difficult for them.” So going up the slide helps your kid develop bodily awareness, makes them less clumsy, and makes it easier for them to learn certain skills.
Climbing the slide also lets my kids test their limits safely. How high can they get? Can they make it? When will they slide back down? We know that risky play is important for children, and that it does all sorts of great things. It builds social skills. It builds self-esteem plus creativity and resilience. Even if my kids fail (and they usually do), there’s a sense of accomplishment and hard work that goes along with slide-climbing. They try lots of different holds and foot positions. It helps them place their body in space.
Most importantly, I don’t want my children to think they have to use their playthings in the manner someone else has dictated. If everyone is sliding down, climbing up becomes a creative act. This teaches them to question the world around them in a safe way, starting with the playground.
The up-the-stairs-down-the-slide crowd might be howling mad right about now. How dare I put my kids’ chance to question authority up against Junior’s right to slide down the slide? But see my point above about how it’s only okay to climb up the slide when no one’s in line to come down it. And if no one is waiting to go down the slide, I fail to see how a child climbing up the slide is interfering with another’s play experience.
I understand that parents might not want their kids climbing up the slide, and my kids might be setting what they think is a bad example. But that’s a good chance to talk about how different parents make different rules. I refuse to curtail my kids’ enjoyment because you think they’re a bad influence. If you don’t want your kids climbing up the slide, stop them. But don’t stop my kids who know Mama says they can go up the slide if no one’s waiting.
My kids also understand that the slide is, primarily, for going down. They know they can’t climb when there’s a line. And they know that if they do, they might get a well-deserved foot in the face. That’s another life lesson there. As there is a life lesson for the kid who runs into them on their way down. Shoulda looked before ya leaped, kiddo.
More than anything, though, going up the slide is fun. I did it. You did it. You remember the exhilaration, the careful negotiation of foot and hand, the sense of pride and accomplishment when you made it to the top — likely to slide right back down again. I won’t deprive my kids of that sense of fun. And I’m sorry if you deprive yours of it.
When you see us at the park, be warned. We’ll stay out of the way when your kids are coming down. But when they’re not, my kids have the right to go up. It’s part of a normal childhood. It’s a healthy part of childhood with all kinds of developmental benefits. And damn it, theyŕe going to get it — up-the-ladder-down-the-sliders and their death glares be damned.