“Fair Game” Playground Parenting

How you approach an unattended toy on the playground can say a lot about your parenting style. 

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At the park with our community toys.

You find toy on the playground that your child wants to play with that has no clear owner. What do you do?

  1. Allow your child to play with it.
  2. Look around. Find the owner and ask if you can play with it.
  3. Tell your child she can’t play with it because it is not hers.

If you read this blog you can probably guess that we at Tinkerbell Road believe in the first response. There are benefits to treating toys on the playground as fair game for both children and parents.

Quick Overview of “Fair Game”

Any toy brought to the park is fair game when unattended. If your child doesn’t want others to play with it, he or she shouldn’t bring it to the park. The owner of the toy can come back and request to play with it, but it is not cool for the owner to take it back but then go play with something else leaving the toy alone again. Toys parked off the playground are not fair game. This primarily applies to vehicles like scooters, trikes, and bikes used to get to the playground. If you brought a truck and stash it under a tree thinking it will be left alone you might be surprised at who will find it. Books are generally considered not fair game. In our experience, books require a level of permission that left-alone trucks or other small toys do not.

Here are three benefits to fair game toy use on the playground:

1. Children learn the concept of community. 

You can have the conversation ahead of time about what taking a toy to the park means. This is a rich topic that delves into concepts of possession, sharing, and ultimately what is personal and community space. Our culture has a strong bent towards possession and property rights. The playground can be a great place to practice the idea of community and the benefits from social capital, or the idea that we can find benefit from something that someone else has without needing to possess it ourselves. What we really want is for a child to get pleasure out of seeing someone else enjoy something he or she owns. This is the spirit of community that can be a foundation for a life of rewarding relationships.

2. Children can practice negotiating with others.

This philosophy of fair game allows for more interaction than answers 2 and 3 to the quiz above. If the toys stick with the owner we miss out on so many learning opportunities. The playground is a place where kids of all ages are open to play together. They are not in a grade or other similar age class. This creates some interesting dynamics when a five year old has to communicate and bargain with a two year old on the use of his toy. A good practice that comes out of this for the older kids is mentoring and leadership. As a rule, they have to give in because they are older and better understand what is going on. Your more eager leader can take on the role of managing turn taking for the group. For the younger ones, they can learn how to get what they want by being nice and patiently waiting for a turn. If all else fails the older children have a quick introduction to what community space means and the implications of bringing a toy into it.

3. Fair Game is the easiest way to manage toy use on the playground. 

I will agree that the approach of look around and ask is not bad. The problem here is that it is time consuming and confusing. I have seen many parents find the toy we leave for others to play with fighting off their kid asking “whose is this?” A person could spend hours asking around for the owner. We parents don’t have time for this. Let’s agree that toys are open and parents can relax (until we have to step in and help with negotiating use!)

If you choose number three and force your kid to stay away you will more than likely have a difficult tantrum on your hands. It is like taking a kid to a candy store and saying no to candy. It isn’t fair to bring a fun toy to the park where anyone can touch it and say that no one else can play with it. Keep that toy at home if you or your child don’t want to open it to the community.

Abiding by the third philosophy usually comes hand in hand with “don’t go up the slide” or “use the equipment only as it is intended” or “stay out of the puddles.” The point isn’t to judge but to simply state the facts: your child and my child will be raised with a different set of values. A community toy on the playground can be a good indicator, actually, to help parents know a bit about each other early on and find like minded parents.

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