Meet Dr Keith Alexander, Mechanical Engineer and father of 3, who spent 15 years of his life dedicated to inventing the world’s safest trampoline, Springfree. It’s no secret that here at Children of the Tribe, we are big believers in children exploring, discovering and playing outdoors. Like us, Keith is a strong advocate of this philosophy. This dedicated inventor spent some time chatting with us about his inspiration, fatherhood, and the ‘Dad’ moments he treasures most.
Tell us about the inspiration behind the creation of the Springfree trampoline, was there a lightbulb moment?
I'm not sure there was a specific light-bulb moment. It was more a combination of pressure/anxiety plus a lot of small light bulb moments, and then the work needed to see which ones were right. The pressure initially was from my wife's firm belief that trampolines were unsafe, and how that conflicted with my own experience of what fun they were. That propelled me into thinking of many alternative ways of doing it; if there was one specific light bulb moment, it would have been trying out the very first kebab stick model and realizing that it worked in spite of the non-symmetry, with all the rods leaning over one way. That was the go-no go decision point for this rod type of trampoline suspension.
You are a Dad to 3 now grown up kids. Kate, William and Beth were 9,7 and 4 when you were in the early stages of development. As children, what was their reaction to your work?
The kids' reaction seemed to be that it was just one of the things that happened in their back yard, and it got incorporated into their play, their birthdays, the visits by friends, along with the flying fox, the tree hut, the rabbits, the emus and access to the video camera.
Here at Children of the Tribe, we are big advocates of children playing outdoors. What else did you love to do with your children as they were growing up?
Our part of Christchurch is criss-crossed with streams flowing into the Avon River, and on hot days we would take the canoes and paddle the streams, and peer into other people's back yards. Lots of good ideas for huts - and sometimes the kids would see a Springfree trampoline and be the first to report back where it was.
What’s the most valuable piece of parenting advice you've ever received?
Early on my wife, Faith chose Play Centre as the preschool experience for Kate. Part of the Play Centre philosophy was that adults are there to help children explore and discover their world. I could really identify with that concept. The core idea helped us create a child-centred home environment. With that as a foundation the kids seemed to grow up assuming they could do anything, and had no qualms about approaching the adults in their lives, and engaging them in discussion about what they wanted to do. I feel very fortunate to have been introduced to that idea early in my years as a parent.
What has been one of your most treasured moments as a father?
I have many treasured moments, but one that is relevant is the time we had some issues with the trampoline rods and I was spending my Saturday with large wooden levers, clamping the side of the trampoline down and tethering the levers with ropes and weights while I peered underneath. I later found a video on our big old video camera, taken from the lounge window, with a rather dry, running commentary by Kate, concluding: "This is just the sort of thing that happens in our back yard."