It’s conker playing time, so why are there no children coming up the garden path, asking if they may collect the conkers from our big old horse chestnut tree?
Could it be something to do with the dreaded Health & Safety brigade forbidding children to play conkers in the school playground ?
How do children of today develop their sense of adventure, an appetite for exploration, give their imagination free rein; perhaps even just learn how to negotiate a road, when they are under supervision almost every hour of the day.
Why are so many playgrounds empty most of the time, even in good weather? Where are the children having fun?
This is not the beginning of a “better-in-my-day” rant. I genuinely feel sorry for the way children are hedged about on all sides by anxious parents, teachers concerned that they might be sued and officialdom adding prohibitive restrictions.
“In-my-day”, the young were sent out to play, to explore woods and fields and hedges, to build dens, climb trees, swim and paddle in streams and ponds. There were seasons for bike riding, roller and ice skating, sledging, skipping, hopscotch, playing ball and many other regularly recurring games. Girls took their dolls and doll related paraphernalia on to the doorstep or into the open porch, boys kicked a ball about in the street.
I realise that most children grow up in towns nowadays and that it would be foolish to allow them to play on busy roads but it must surely be within the bounds of adults’ ingenuity to encourage children to discover activities outside their computer and TV infested bedrooms or organised “after-school-activities”. Many children are ferried to and from lessons in extra-curricular subjects after school hours, could these subjects not include some unsupervised playtime in a safe environment? Not just indoors but outdoors as well.
Even nowadays children could still have adventures away from adults, on their own, rehearsing how to become grown-up by taking on responsibility for themselves and each other; with older children keeping an eye out for the younger ones.
Perhaps parents’ reluctance to give their children the freedom they deserve and need is partly due to the constant reminders and solemn warnings in the media and public organs of the ever-present danger of psychopaths, rapists, muggers, lurking around every corner as well as gangs of feral boys, and more recently, girls, wielding guns and knives, ruling the streets.
I heard last weekend, that here, at Valley’s End, shrubs and trees have recently been cut down on the perimeter of the children’s playground and the football field with the justification that “paedophiles might be lurking there hidden from view, waiting to pounce”. I sincerely hope that is no more than rumour, otherwise I would despair.
Horror stories like these sell papers and advertising; for the most part, these stories are wildly exaggerated, even nonsense. The children who come to harm in our society, come to harm at home or in the care of people they know well, people out of their own, often closest, environment. Only the very worst of these stories come to public knowledge, the vast majority of them remain untold. But every isolated case of a stranger attacking a child is immediately whipped into a froth of public hysteria.
We must keep our children and grandchildren safe, we must protect them, look after them, but let us also allow them the space and freedom to grow into happy and well-adjusted adults. I feel that “learning to play” is very much part of that process.
What do you think?
painting by Jacques Laurent Agasse 1767-1849 "Der Spielplatz"