Thursday, July 21, 2011

Confederation Park Climber Kerfuffle

Recently at the past two Aurora Council meetings two residents, Laurie Harris and Martin McIntaggart, have come forth to speak to council pleading to have the "double hump camel climber" removed from Aurora's Confederation Park.

Laurie Harris, at the latest meeting, brought her four year old daughter to the recent council meeting to explain that her daughter hurt herself when falling from the climber.  Ms. Harris, along with her husband Jeff Harris, believe that the climber should be totally removed before a child is seriously injured or killed.  Her husband Jeff Harris has taken to Evelyn Buck's blog and the local media to defend their family's belief the the climber should be removed as well. 

Martin McIntaggart, claiming to be a Labour ministry specialist who inspects buildings like the CN Tower, also believes the climber should be removed.  He believes this structure should be removed as he has seen kids climb up to the top and freeze in fear of continuing onwards. 

The Town's Parks and Recreation Department attempted to take a poll of local residents who use the park about the structure.  Instead of having a clearly posted sign attached to the climber or posted in a conspicous spot next to the structure, town staff posted a computer print out in a plastic baggy on a baby swingset.  This sign eventually became so weathered it became unreadable.  Thus, as Park and Recreation Director Al Downey told Aurora Council, the town did not receive a conclusive feedback of for or against the climber being removed. In fact, I would imagine, the town park's staff probably wasted their time and money in putting up the sign and undertaking such an under publicized inconclusive poll. Overall, I did not see anything posted on the Town's website about the poll and I doubt anything was published in the Town of Aurora's Noticeboard in the local newspaper asking for feedback.  Further, the town communications department late last year launched  Twitter and Facebook accounts, I've just done a search on both and not even a mention in the last 30 days of the words "Confederation Park."  The Parks and Recreation department has done this before for resident feedback for such opinions on the Aurora Family Leisure Complex Fitness Centre.  One wonders why the Parks and Recreation Department never did this. 

Also at the last council meeting were two mothers who also work as lunch time assistants at Regency Acres Public School who believe the climber should be left in its place.  Gayle Palmer and Leah Clark noted to council that kids have issues all the time with playground equipment whether it being tumbling over the sides of slides or misjudging the height of monkey bars.  They also pointed out that children should be shown age appropriate equipment and explained that when they get older they can try the other equipment. 

Parks and Recreation Director, Al Downey, pointed out in a article:
[He] confirmed the park, including the climber that was installed two years ago, was approved by the Canadian Safety Association and continues to comply with those standards.
“However, this doesn’t prevent injury,” he said. “There is challenges in the parks to increase enjoyment.”
With all of the above in mind Aurora Council has a major decision to make, to remove the "double hump camel climber" or let it sit in place as is and move on. 

Aurora Mayor Geoffrey Dawe at the recent council meeting put forth a motion to have the camel climber removed.  There was vigorous debate before Councillor Evelyn Buck moved for a staff report be brought forth with options on removal or letting the climber remain in place.   Al Downey and his team at Parks and Recreation have a big issue at hand and need to come through with all the possible options. Hopefully the Mr. Downey and his department will overcome the mistaken public input process undertaken on the initial public consultation methods as noted above and bring forth a superb report on whether or not to remove the equipment.  If the latter is chosen council has inquired as to what the climber could be replaced with.  Mr. Downey needs to do his homework on this report along with his staff to prevent this issue from becoming even larger.

The question overall is simple on this issue.  It is not whether the equipment should be pulled or not, but the answer can be pieced together through several opinions in an easy to understand way.

The first, Councillor Evelyn Buck responded with an e-mail to Laurie Harris with her stand on the issue which Ms. Buck posted on her blog.  Ms. Buck contends the equipment meets CSA safety standards and are consistently inspected.  As a former day camp councillor with the Town of Aurora I have noted the parks department weekly inspecting the equipment for defects and other issues to ensure children's safety.

Secondly, over at her blog, Living in Aurora, Anna echoes Councillor Buck's beliefs and furthers the point in a posting by noting:

Playground equipment is not designed for one age. It is designed for range of ages. It is my responsibility as a parent to recognize my child’s climbing and maneuverability skills and let them play with the monkey bars. Would I let my three year old now, or four year old next year climb the monkey bars? No, he is a talker, but definitely not a climber at this stage of his life.

Thus, parents should be responsible for what their children are using at the local parks and not merely sit on the bench to talk to the other parents.

Thirdly Professional playground designer, Daniel Haddaway of Designed for Fun Inc., points out, in a letter to the editor on that this particular structure is for ages 5 to 12.  Ms. Harris' daughter, as noted above, is four years old, under the age of five.

Thus the main issue as pointed out by the people above is the lack of supervision of the children involved which lead children to attempt to try equipment not manufactured for their age.  This resulted in injury that the parent is now trying to blame the town on instead of themselves. 

The only change that needs to be made in this case would be for the town to add a nearby sign stating the equipment should be used by those five years old and up while being supervised by an adult.

All parents and others supervising children visiting the local park need to take heed of some important safety precautions.  During my five plus years on staff at the Town of Aurora Day Camps we were guided on how to properly inspect the playground and surrounding grounds before the children arrived for the day.  The first step was do a complete walk around each piece of playground equipment (e.g. jungle gym, swings, etc.) looking for anything on the ground, particularly at entry and exit points (i.e. stairs and slides) that would harm a child including glass and other garbage.  Next we completed an overview of the equipment itself looking for any possible damage or issues that might arise including splinters and, as Anna mentioned in her blog post, hot surfaces like slides.

During the day when the participants were attending camp counsellors oversaw their safety.  Day camp participants on their first day were shown the boundaries of where they could safely be and if they had questions or concerns about the playground equipment or if they wanted to try something they had never done before.  If the latter was the case and the equipment was allowable to be used by the age of the child, the counsellor would have another child show them how the equipment was used and the counsellor carefully supervised the participant trying it.  To ensure participants knew the safety rules each day were also asked to repeat the safety instructions whenever possible to ensure compliance.  This was especially important for younger children as this shows younger participants know where it was safe to play and which one they were not big enough to try yet.

Finally, each counsellor had a group of six to eight campers (depending on the age group) and at minimum always had a fellow staff member on site with them when completing outdoor activities.  Thus, while the children were engaged with the playground equipment, each staff member had their own section of the playground to watch from their vantage point.  Periodically each staff member would count the kids in his/her group to ensure each participant was accounted for and obviously enjoying themselves. 

The town of Aurora and other municipalities install playground equipment for children of various ages.  Therefore, not all children should be using all the equipment.  Children should be shown by parents and supervisoring adults which equipment they should be using and what they should not be using because it is above their abilities.  Those supervising children on playgrounds should be closly watching children playing on playgrounds carefully.  If the child is younger than seven years old, supervisors should be within three to five feet of their youngster for safety purposes.  Overall proper supervision and safety precautions are key at playgrounds because these prevent accidents.  But accidents can never be fully prevented on playgrounds as children can be unpredictable.  Scrapes, bruises and the odd broken bone happen and are part of growing up in childhood.  The sooner parents realize this, the better parents they will become.


  1. Hey Michael, next time I come over to your blog to read your views. Much better analysis than the media reports. Well done ... and thanks for the links.

    Any equipment, double hump camel climber, monkey bars, slides, tire swings, swings can be dangerous for any child. To add to the steel slides, I have seen stone curbs from which children can fall off; kids can walk on the straight road and hurt themselves.

    'Scrapes, bruises and the odd broken bone happen and are part of growing up in childhood. The sooner parents realize this, the better parents they will become.' - well concluded.

    Thanks for sharing your input again Michael.

    Anna :)

  2. Anna:

    Sometimes subjects interest me a lot. I especially enjoy town issues where I know a lot about them and sometimes even more than the councillors (Note: Except Eveleyn Buck who has lived in the neighbourhood longer and is smidge closer by a street, to Confederation Park is the only councillor who does not have less history than I do in the neighbourhood).

    I also enjoy reading the local blogs (especially yours) to gain insight into town happenings. It helps to do the research on the issues and see how people feel about them from both sides of the issue.

    Thanks for visiting.


  3. Michael, I have been following you since 2007, this is when I started my first blogs. It takes lot of energy to keep up with blogging (I know for myself), and I think you have done an amazing job with yours. Of what I have seen you are really good in analyzing situations, and are so detailed. Good for you.

    Appreciate your comment about my blog. Since implementing change to my blog, I feel much more connected to the community.

    ...hanging around Petch house, I had an opportunity to meet Evelyn Buck. She is really down to Earth woman, and knows a lot about the town and surroundings.

    Michael, thanks again and enjoy your weekend.

    Anna :)

  4. Hi Michael:

    A well-written and comprehensive analysis. Your suggestion of a sign warning of a particular age restriction may indeed be sufficient. Neither myself or my wife realize the storm of controversy that would follow this issue, frankly we may have kept silent had we known. My wife in particular has been exposed to personal attack which is not fair.
    I agree that "Scrapes, bruises and the odd broken bone happen and are part of growing up in childhood..." Amy has had her elbow dislocated twice, been scraped and bruised badly at other times, in addition to the camel climber incident. I don't think that makes me a good or bad parent though, just a parent. I think where we draw the line is when the risk becomes too high, since it seems so high when one falls onto the climber. We accept blame in this, I was not there when Amy fell, but we don't sit on the park bench talking to other parents. I think it comes down to not realizing how dangerous this equipment can be for younger ones and if parents are made aware, that is great.
    As an aside, I took the kids to that park a few weeks ago and watched both my 7 year old daughter and Amy climb it, without forcing them of course. I also took a few turns at it as well. Clearly it is age appropriate for those with longer legs and strength (that leaves me out!). Amy did not wish to climb very high on it, even with my help.


    Jeff Harris

  5. Hi Jeff,

    I hope things will get better soon. I don't mean your a bad parent in this posting whatsoever.

    My suggestion for your daughter, especially seeing how petite she is from her appearance on Aurora Council, is if she is trying a new apparatus at the park she have Mom or Dad close by. First, I would check to see if the apparatus is age appropriate first for her. Next, I would invite an older kid (a 7-12 year old) to show her how to climb the item properly. You will be amazed how willingly an older child of that age group is willing to help out a younger. Next, I would encourage you to lightly hold her as she tries the apparatus at first to get the feeling of it and then after the second successful attempt watch her as she climbs it.

    Hope this helps.

    Thanks for posting.



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