Being a mom with two small kids, we have done our fair share of playground hopping over the last 3 weeks. I have realized a couple of really interesting differences in the playgrounds we visit in Boston compared to England.
Oliver, now 3.5 years, tends to be very tentative on playgrounds. He likes to watch other kids before he tries it out. Because he knows his own bounds, I have become comfortable letting him play on his own, with the exception of when bigger kids are around. My experience with older kids is they tend to be oblivious to younger kids and a bit too pushy for my tentative Oliver. I'm often afraid that he will be shoved right out of the way and off a platform. He also reacts negatively to their bold attitudes and walks away from the activity he was engaged in.
Coming to England, I instantly noticed a change on the playgrounds scene. First of all, the kids varied in age from about 1-13 years old. In Boston it is more like 1-8, on a good day, but more often 1-5. I love that the older kids spend their time after school on the playground with all of the little kids. It creates a great sense of community, even if they are playing amongst their own age groups.
The other things I noticed is how gentle and observant the big kids are with the little kids. When Vera parks herself on a merry-go-round (which is the only thing she wants to do at the playground), the bigger kids warn each other "There's babies! There's babies!" if someone starts pushing too fast. Little do they know that she holds on like grim death and wants to go faster than they could possibly push her.
Oliver tried and tried to successfully navigate a 3 story climbing structure that was full of kids running and climbing around him. He tirelessly told me that he couldn't do it, but wanted me to help him get to the 3rd floor. In Boston I would have told him to come down and said there were too many kids running to the top.
However, this scenario played out differently. I was surprised to notice that the kids weren't pushing him out of the way. They were waiting to see if he would venture up before making the decision to climb the ladder themselves. Their sense of personal space and awareness was obvious. They waited their turn, and noticed when kids were younger and weaker then themselves.
I'm not sure how this is learned, or why it is different, but I appreciate and welcome the change.
After trying to climb the steep ladder to the third level, amongst the swarm of kids, Oliver finally worked up the courage to climb to the top. He was so thrilled with himself and his accomplishment. And of course, so was I.