When I was in high school, I worked as a teaching assistant for a special needs summer school. The first class I ever worked with was a group of 8 to 10 year olds. The other people I worked with were around 20 years older than me. When it was time for recess, I kind of assumed it would be my job to chase after the students and help them on all the playground equipment, because I was the rookie. That first recess I ran myself ragged chasing, helping, lifting, and rescuing. I was, in fact, the only adult that was actually on the playground with the students. The others stood aside and watched. I was feeling a little resentful, but was aware that there is a pecking order. At the end of that period, one of the older teaching assistants took me aside. She told me never to help the students on the playground unless they were in trouble. If they wanted help reaching a bar that was out of their grasp, or climbing on something they couldn’t do on their own, I shouldn’t help them. Not only would they continue to rely on me to help them, but it would actually make the playground less safe for the kids. She told me that if a child believed they could do something independently that really their body wasn’t big enough for, they could end up getting hurt. She said I should let students try things on their own. They would feel successful if they could do it, but it would also help the students learn their own limits if they couldn’t.
That lesson has stuck with me to this day. I engage with my children on the playground at times, but I only help if they need rescuing. Other parents have actually scowled at me for not helping, and even have gone so far as to lift my son to something that was out of his reach. No other parent has ever asked me why I don’t help. I suppose they think I am being lazy or am preoccupied. So, I’m posting my playground philosophy here. Perhaps one of those moms will read it and understand me a little better. I love when we go to the playground and I hear, “I’m big enough to do this now, watch mom!”