School playgrounds today are generally happy, bright, and plastic-y wonderlands. Cushions of wood chips or recycled rubber soften falls, and playground borders are nicely mapped out so teachers can keep a good eye on their students.
And while ’70s and ’80s kids might fondly reminisce and call modern playgrounds “soft,” anyone who taught in those decades knows updates had to be made—’70s and ’80s playgrounds were basically an invitation to the emergency room. Veteran teachers, take a look at these photos and remember, we survived.
1. Mary-Goes-Down (aka Merry-Go-Round)
Ideally: A couple kids jumped on while another trotted leisurely alongside to spin. The children selflessly rotated, giving the pusher ample time to ride.
In real life: Your entire class hopped on. The pusher ran so aggressively that he inevitably fell and was dragged by the Mary-go-down, only stopping when he finally let go or ran into one of the other 50 children who fell off.
2. Third-Degree-Burner (aka Metal Slide)
Ideally: Because kids are great at taking turns, they lined up single file, waited until the previous slider had enjoyed her turn and evacuated the slide area. Then they climbed the ladder to enjoy a smooth journey back down to earth.
In real life: Your entire class hopped on. It was actually hard to distinguish between individual children in the steady stream of screamers tumbling over each other at the bottom of the slide. And let’s not forget the real and painful danger of a metal slide on a hot summer day.
3. See Jane Whiplash (aka Seesaw)
Ideally: Two relatively equal-sized children used their legs to bounce up and down.
In real life: Your entire class hopped on. And if by “equal” we mean seven kids to one, then sure. And there was always, ALWAYS, the jerk who would hop off quickly, letting their unsuspecting partner land with a brain-stem rattling thud.
4. The Skin Scraper (aka Asphalt)
Ideally: Students used this hard space to draw with chalk, play basketball, bounce balls, or play hopscotch.
In real life: Your entire class hopped on. The chalk drawers spilled onto the basketball court and the hopscotchers bumped into the four squarers. Altercations. So many altercations. And when the kids fell? Even if your asphalt wasn’t broken and uneven, you could count on graphic hand and knee scrapes.
5. Arm Breaker (aka Jungle Gym)
Ideally: A few children stretched and built muscle as they used their arms and legs to climb all over the gym and across the monkey bars.
In real life: Your entire class hopped on. So at least there might be a child at the bottom to soften the fall of the kid who dropped from the top. And while the metal variety has mostly disappeared (#metalburns), bright, happy, and plastic-y versions of monkey bars remain. Though they are about half the size.
6. Look Out! (aka Tether Ball)
Ideally: The appropriate number of children (two) gathered around the tetherball, played an organized game, and were great sports.
In real life: Your entire class did NOT hop on, because only 5 percent knew the actual rules and barred the rest from joining in. The rest were left crying because they were either a) left out or b) bonked in the head after sneaking too close. And rope burns to the fingers? Every time.
7. The I Believe I Can Fly (aka Swings)
Ideally: One child positioned herself in the swing and used her legs to pump. She swung high enough to feel the drop in her stomach, but not high to go all the way around.
In real life: Your entire class hopped on. Literally. Like 10 kids on one swing. And then they proceeded to try to jump out and land without spraining an ankle or crushing another student. And while swings are still in use today, the chains are now usually coated in vinyl so you don’t get the dreaded metal pinch.
If a piece of playground equipment couldn’t give you splinters, tetanus, or both, there was no fun to be had from it.