I may not have much experience in playground in a lot of other countries but there are some things that strike me about German parents and mums in particular and the way they supervise their kids and play with them (or not) at the playground.
- a playground is a year round meeting place
Come rain, snow or sunshine, kids will be there from dawn till dark with their parent. Most parents and families use it as a meeting place to get together with their friends. As school ends, the influx starts and they stay there for a while. I went to a nearby large playground this week and when I left at 5pm, the playground was still very busy even though it was almost dark. This is winter after all. Weekends are very busy too but in a different way. Sunday mornings are full of dads with the kids. Mums are busy cleaning the house or just having a little time off. Dads are on playground duty then.
- kids will always be dressed appropriately.
Now, this is a German characteristic not only true for the playground but for everything. If it is slightly damp or it has rained in the last 24 hours, the kids will be wearing a full-on rain set: boots, trousers and jacket. If it is under 10°C, kids are likely to be wearing hats, gloves and snowsuits. In the summer, if it is hot, it will be like a beach. Kids will be covered in sun cream on arrival and they will easily have nothing on apart from underwear to play in the many water features. Shoes are optional then too.
- bring tons of food
And I mean tons. As they tend to come for a little while and not just pop in for 10 minutes or so, the amount of food is usually large. Whatever time of the day it may be, mums bring tons of snacks and food to be consumed while there: pretzels, fruits, biscuits, sausages, .... you name it, they have it somewhere in the bag together with a bottle of something to drink for each child.
- bring a huge bag of sand toys, the bike, pushchairs, etc
Most families bring a large if not a few large bags with sand and water toys, all carefully labelled with their child's name (ah German planning!). Buckets, spades, ice-cream cones, spoons, trucks, etc. Older children tend to come on their bike and younger ones in a pushchair but some also bring the bikes or ride-on toys too, just in case... Pushchairs often have small bikes mounted on and mum can hardly see where she is going with all the gear.
- let them do anything they like
Finally, let the kids do anything you like as long as you can chat with your friends in peace. I suspect this may be true in most countries. But German mums allow their kids a lot of freedom. I was surprised at the beginning to see older kids climbing on the rooftops of the structures (which are not really meant for that). I think this may come down to their attitude to safety too.
Needless to say, I was not really prepared for all this and my poor little girl with her lonely mum, no rain trousers, her apple, her spade and only her legs to transport her was the odd one out at the beginning. I now understand the rules and she has her own collection of toys (even if it not labelled and much smaller than most others). I also arrange playdates there to blend in!
I would love to hear your comments. How different is your experience with playgrounds where you live? How involved are parents? Is there a ritual behind playground activities?