Back in the Day… Playgrounds Were Actually Fun

Today playgrounds are colorful, soft, and lawsuit-resistant. But many of them don’t look all that much fun. Back in the day, playgrounds, equipment, and the types of things we did on them were a bit different from today.

If the sun had been out all day, by last recess careening down the metal slide was like sliding down a hot stove after Thanksgiving dinner. I’d stare down that steep hot mess of burning metal, wishing I’d worn tights that day.

Now the bare undersides of my scrawny legs would pay the price. But there was no backing out now. There were at least 17 kids lined up behind me, screaming for me to hurry up and go or they were going to push me down themselves.

We didn’t have brightly-colored rubber padding under the monkey bars. When we fell, we landed on uneven pavement and chunky gravel. Blood wasn’t a big deal as long as it clotted in a timely manner. As long as we didn’t break a bone, we got up and shook it off.

We played on tire swings that provided prime nesting for spiders the size of our palm. Right in the middle of a big swing they would come crawling out to settle on our leg or the side of our neck. We had to jump off in mid-flight and smash them quickly.

Those old, cheap metal swing sets that actually pulled half-way out of the ground when we really got them going were loads of fun.

“Let’s tip it!” the kid next to me would scream.

Then we proceeded to swing as high and fast as possible in an attempt to knock the whole thing over. Why we wanted to do that I have no idea. Thankfully, we never accomplished that task.

The grand-daddy of all playground equipment was the maypole. This consisted of long chains with handle bars on the end. The chains were connected to the top of a pole that was securely cemented into the pavement. At least we hoped it was cemented securely once we started running as fast as possible and then jumped into the air while hanging onto the metal bars for dear life.

Just for kicks, we occasionally ramped it up a notch and did what we called “twisting” on the maypole. This was when we wrapped our chain around everyone else’s. To top it off, a strong classmate would lift us off the ground and start running when everyone else did to give us a boost. Once the other kids would jump up, their chains would catapult the chain, along with the person hanging on the end of it, several feet off the ground. We’d fly full speed ahead, never touching the ground until our chain was completely unwrapped.

When trying to tell kids today about this type of playground equipment and what we did on it, they look at us like we went sky diving over noon recess. Metal bars? Flying through the air? They simply stare in disbelief. I guess it’s easier to think we’re making it all up than to believe kids were ever allowed to have that much fun.

I actually feel sorry for kids today. Much of their playground equipment is about as dull as a month old razor. Some playgrounds have even gone as far as posting signs that state: No Running on the Playground. Are you kidding me? They might as well post a sign declaring: No Getting Wet in the Pool.

I haven’t seen an actual maypole in at least 30 years. Except for old scratchy photographs, I’m not sure they even exist anymore. Really fun playgrounds are just one of many things that now only exist, back in the day.


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