blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Let the children play!

Martin, a Facebook friend of mine, has just posted a link to an excellently written, 5000 word article in a British-based online magazine, Aeon. The article is entitled The Play Deficit
Children today are cossetted and pressured in equal measure. Without the freedom to play they will never truly grow up ...
It's written by someone of my generation who probably grew up in the countryside, as Chris and I did. In the author's case, it was the American countryside, but it makes no difference. Although he didn't actually make this connexion, children have become more urban during the last half century and consequently, it seems, less self-sufficient. I worry about their lack of free time, myself. I added a comment, saying:
I absolutely agree with the message of this article. I grew up in the '50s too and see my grandsons deprived of this freedom to play. However, when I talked to my daughter, their mother, about this, she pointed out that the traffic on the roads near her house is too dangerous to let the children explore on their own out there. The children are aged 2 and 6 and live in London, England. Although they live near a big park, it is taboo to let them explore it on their own, although in my opinion they could have a wonderful time if they did so. Too "dangerous." In fact it's considered so dangerous that my grandsons' parents could be put on a blacklist by the local authorities for not being present while they play. Where they live, there's a communal lawn and a car park (parking lot) for residents immediately outside. If they play ball games outside with the other neighbours' children, their parents have to suffer endless complaints from the childless neighbours about the noise and damage to their cars, so for the sake of peace and harmony the children are mostly kept indoors, where they too often stare at computer or TV screens. What is the solution to these problems?
Thomas and Alex choosing their own way home in the rain
When they can, my daughter and son-in-law, who need to live close to their place of work, so moving to the countryside is not an option, do their best to find their own solutions. They often bring the boys home through the park after school / nursery and work, letting them run ahead through the long grass, just within sight. That's OK until the winter comes and it's too dark. At the weekends they take them to places like Wimbledon Common, which is virtual countryside, where they can go on "'dventures" (as little Thomas says) down the inviting pathways through the forest and up and down the hills, and climb trees. This summer the family went camping too, in the real country for a few days, where the boys had the freedom of big fields to play in. Still, their parents have always been close at hand.

In the old days, it was more acceptable for parents to take risks, my mother vaguely warning me about "bad men"––I hadn't a clue what she meant––when I wandered off by myself into the woods, as I had been doing since the age of three or four. Chris' parents didn't even know where he had gone with his untrustworthy pals once he'd left the house. One day he naughtily didn't come home for lunch and they had the river dragged for him, but he turned up safe and sound in the end. I don't think the outside world was that much less dangerous, although admittedly the roads weren't so busy. There were still just as many "bad men" out there, of course, everywhere. D├╝rrenmatt's horrible novella about the hunt for a child murderer, Das Versprechen––set in rural Switzerland!––was published in 1958.

On Sunday mornings Alexander attends his Rugby Club training sessions for the Under Sevens. The writer of The Play Deficit would probably disapprove of this, being so regimented a pastime, but it does give Alexander a taste of male discipline, it encourages self-discipline too, and he gets to play with a whole pack of other boys his age. Most important of all, the coaches and visiting professional rugby players are role models for him, in contrast to the lady-teachers he mostly has at school. I witnessed two hours of this on the weekend I spent in London, and came away impressed.

Alexander and other 6-year-olds, with a professional rugby player 

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