Playground Memories

What can you reconstruct from your blurry childhood memories? Boisterous hide-and-seek games with your neighborhood friends? A sandbox where you used to “bake” fancy cakes? An old swing where you first met a boy that became a source of your fantasies? I can't recollect the layout of our first apartment but I can recall exactly how many steps there were between the swing and the slide in our neighborhood playground. I can vividly describe how my friend slipped from the monkey bars and broke her hand, how one winter some fathers built a skating rink, and how I rode a bike for hours, pretending to be a taxi. That playground was the center of my universe, a piazza of my life – to show, share, play, to be alone and to be together. I do not see playgrounds from this perspective anymore. The magic was a gift of childhood. Then it was real and now it is pretense – the games with princesses in castles, fighting soldiers, unsolved mysteries. I shall remember this the next time I yawn when my kids request to go to the playground.



Here are some playground science tricks to impress your kids in their 'real' world.

  • Pumping: Tell them that pumping on the swing shifts their mass strategically, making them swing faster. The most efficient pumping motion is the one that requires the most work: your child should stand on the swing, squatting when the swing reaches the highest point and standing upright when the swing is at its lowest.

  • Yes, you can start swinging from complete rest - but it takes patience and persistence for a number of minutes. The best secret strategy: start pumping by leaning your body back and forth, then stand on the swing and squat to pump.

  • Jumping from swing: teach them when to jump from the swing in order to enjoy the farthest flight into sand or water. If they jump too early, close to the bottom of the arc, they do not have upward velocity that can fight gravity and keep them in the air for long. Plus, the swing seat will bang them in the back. If they wait too long and jump at the highest arc point, when most of their velocity is vertical, instead of flying forward they immediately drop to the ground. Tell your kids to jump in the middle.

  • Run: As soon as your kid touches the ground he should run forward, to prevent falling by inertia.


And since all of this is reasonably dangerous, warn your kids to never, ever try it alone. And they will absolutely positively listen.

More stories from The Math Mom, about creative math of parenting: Yes, I would not or No, I will or Mommy, I am afraid to die.

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