Europe: America's playground
Forget medieval castles, world famous works of art, spectacular gardens or ancient cathedrals, what our kids will remember most about our years in Europe will be the playgrounds, Expatica's blogger writes.
When we decided to move to Belgium, people told us time and time again what a great experience it would be for our children. Indeed, at 7 and 9 years, they seemed the perfect age for an overseas move. They were open to family adventures, excited about change, interested in the world around them and able to find joy in everyday experiences. From the moment we first discussed the possibility of moving with them, it was all they could talk about.
We've now been living here for 18 months and in that time my children have traveled through the Netherlands, Germany, France and the United Kingdom as well as all over Belgium. They've visited medieval castles and 18th century chateaus, they've seen world famous works of art, spectacular gardens, ancient cathedrals, Roman ruins and many of Western Europe's most famous landmarks. They have met children from Morocco, Estonia, Finland, Malaysia, Slovenia, Korea, Ukraine, Russia, Germany, England, the Netherlands, France, the Philippines and of course, Belgium.
Yet I'm convinced despite their impressive travel resumes, what they'll remember most about our years in Europe will be the playgrounds. On our first day in Brussels, they were thrilled to discover a small park near our apartment that had everything they loved: a slide, swings, bouncy teeter-totters, monkey bars and a meandering waterway. This was just the beginning of exploring playgrounds across Europe.
No matter where we've been or what's been on our agenda as we've traveled in Europe, there's always been a playground nearby to entertain the children when they've had enough of museums, history, architecture and sightseeing.
I think America devotes far less money and attention to parks and playgrounds. Not only do there seem to be far fewer, but they tend to be inferior to those in Europe. In an effort to keep everyone safe and reduce injuries and liability, playground designers have taken all the fun out of playgrounds. They're generally brightly colored and great for preschoolers, but many no longer have swings, the slides are low or designed to be slow, there's rarely anything that spins and the climbing equipment doesn't take you much closer to the sky.
European playgrounds on the other hand challenge kids and let them take risks, even if that means protective parents might get a bit nervous. There are rope courses, huge climbing pyramids, monkey bars, swings, radical see-saws, all manner of things that spin, and climb-and-glide type rides. There are slides of all heights and speeds, water troughs and pumps, giant plastic building blocks, merry-go-rounds, balance boards and lots and lots of sand.
Forget the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, Stonehenge, the Roman Coliseum and the Grand Place. Who cares about cruising on the Seine, eating lunch along the Thames, or kayaking the Lessee River? Seeing paintings by Monet, Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Da Vinci and Vermeer — no big deal? Never mind trodding through all the ancient castles and cathedrals and seeing sculptures by Michelangelo. When my children return to America, I'm sure the stories they'll share with friends and classmates around the lunch table will involve the hours they spent climbing, sliding and gliding in cities across Europe. And that's fine—the important thing for us is that they've had a good time and created many happy memories. We have too.
V-Grrrl / Expatica
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