Tire Swing Time Machines

A new playground is going up nearby. This is not your father’s park – with monkey bars over macadam. It’s a state-of-the-art playground, one of the premier examples in the country of a hi-tech, colorful, designed play space for kids. It’s going to be awesome. I’m tickled that it’s so close; you can be sure my kids and I are going to enjoy it.

But we won’t need it. I know enough about children to know that when it comes to play, bigger is not always better. For children with active imaginations, a simple backyard clubhouse works like a charm. Any space they can call their own, any structure given to them can be transformed into something magical. Even a tire swing.

Growing up, I had an old tire hanging on a thick, bristly rope; tied with a knot the size of a big man’s fist. Most days, it sat motionless – an upright, black O under a towering sycamore. But when I’d set it swinging, I’d set my imagination into motion, too. My favorite game was to make it into a time machine, when it would transform my back yard into a prehistoric jungle. Or some futuristic landscape requiring me to bring a laser gun for protection. I’d pull friends into the adventures, each of them just as eager as I was.

Where do your kids go to play? The trips to the plastic playgrounds are good. But what about around your yard or house or apartment? Is there a place they can go – and still be safe, of course – to have their own flights of fancy?

Maybe it’s a tree house. As a child, the poet e. e. cummings had a tree house into which his father put a bunk bed and even a stove to keep warm with for the winter months! It doesn’t have to be that elaborate a structure. A big cardboard box parked under a tree isn’t as permanent, but can create the same fun.

Think about giving your children an outside creative space. Someplace cozy. A little secret. A little mysterious, even. Someplace they can call their own: where they can decorate, make voices for their play horses, devise rules for their club, read books, bury treasure, or just sit and dream.

Such spaces will never be designed in factories. They’re the product of a little planning by a parent, and the imagination of a child.

Bruce Van Patter

all material ©2005 Bruce Van Patter