Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Children's Playtime

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"


  1. I agree but living in the United States violence has increased in schools tremendously. To see your setting where you are would be ideal. We were left to our own devices. We had tag, hop scotch and so many things but any more there is never a day goes by that there are not at least one child killed because they would not join a gang or some crazy thing. In fact I just hope my great grandkids all grow up without something happening to them and Lincoln schools are one of the more calm schools.

  2. Friko I totally agree with you. Apparently the situation is a little worse in the UK but the same is going on here just a little bit more low key.

  3. Just yesterday I noticed wonderful shiny conkers on the ground after a windy day. I had the urge to scoop them up and take them home to show and share the rich colors and smooth, yet uneven shapes. I couldn't think of anyone to share them with who would appreciate them so I left them laying there, in the hope a child would find and enjoy them.

  4. Friko, I agree with you so wholeheartedly that I could have written this blog myself, though perhaps less eloquently. Let them out, let them play.

  5. I think that children should be taught music in school (it's always the first program to get cut). It's all about imagination and the dreadful consequences of its attrition.

  6. Friko, say what you really think.

  7. A great Friko musing, Friko. Children literally do not have any free time: sports take up a tremendous amount of after-school time, and then there are dozens of lessons such as Spanish (ah, French; ah, German), dance, gymnastics, arts-and-crafts, you name it, to take up the rest. I like what Prospero said, too: what about imagination and hands-on learning? Playing with blocks or in a sandbox could be an education. And the literacy and education rates have gone down in the U.S., in spite of everything. Well, I don't know soccer, but I can play the piano! Good essay.

  8. Life north of Hamburg was filled with many an adventure and hours to be spend between sky high trees, stealing corn, apples and alike during the harvest months.
    Life south of the city centre of Athens, does provide a much different way of life. Having houses too high for the sun to reach down, cars and busses passing by 24/7 provides even danger, as they do not at all take care of children, let alone street signs, such as a One-Way Road.
    It would be a pleasure to know my son playing at that playground you show, until that will happen, he spends many hours inside, searching with me, many times answers to that.
    A wonderful Thursday. (sorry for the length, but really a subject I think about)

  9. Right on! When everyone is a suspect you can barely smile at a child without fearing their mother is afraid of you.

    The idea that children need private lives to develop makes a lot of sense to me.

    Here in America it's Halloween. Kids never come to my neighborhood for candy (and it's a good neighborhood). They go to stores and shopping malls, and never without an adult. It's a shame that reasonable caution has seemed to morph into paranoia.

  10. Ah Friko, how you encourage me to rant!...but first, conkers. On Friday as I drove through the wind and rain my windshield was hit by a huge conker - scared the daylights out of me!
    Ok, now children and play. It's a sad state of affairs when parents have bought the media hype about the world being a more dangerous/violent place. Statistics tell us that this just isn't so. The hysteria that encourages parents to keep their children indoors in constantly supervised activities will surely lead to a decline in imaginative thinking, inventiveness, independence, self confidence (which, contrary to popular belief has little to do with telling a child he/she is doing well)and the ability to take care of themselves when things might actually be difficult later in life.

  11. Oh here here. You are speaking words from my heart Friko. We are lucky enough to live in my family home with a very large 'safe' garden where as a child I was able to hide, make dens, climb trees and explore and my children were lucky enough to be allowed the freedom to do the same. Oh yes there were times when they did things that would make your hair curl with anxiety [some of which we have on video!] but children have to grow up and learn from their own experiences. A x

  12. I agree, I agree. It impacts teaching, too, in that taking a class of kids to a theatre involves so much Risk Assessing and Checking For Possible Terrorist/Nuclear/Earthquake Possibility that it just doesn't seem worth it for what is about six hours' extra paperwork. Bah.

  13. There is a danger of the perception of increased risk vs the actual risk of danger - parents are afraid to let their kids out of their site, when the biggest risk still remains with people that are known to parents and kids and not with strangers (sad, but true).

    Lack of parental control is largely responsible for a decline in behaviour - if parents don't give a consistent message then how can they expect their kids to behave?

    Like the woman on local TV whose kid had been suspended from school for hitting a teacher - the woman just shrugged whilst the kid played the playstation in the background and said "Not my fault if he's evil is it?"

    We all need to take responsibility for our own and our children's actions

    Rant over

  14. These are indeed sad times. We don't seem to be able to tread a middle ground between over-protection and reackless abandonment.

  15. I was amamzed when we visited my sister last week to discover that there were lots of children in the neighbour hood. We only saw two outside, and English modern houses just do not seem to have gardens big enough to explore and play in!

    Ours are in the midst of conker collecting and for ever outside building dens digging holes and making bows and arrows, it may mean the garden looks like some warzone but I am happier for them to be free amongst the trees than I would be having to tidy straight rows od plants and keep everything spick and span in an urban lanscape.

  16. Hi everybody -

    one reply fits all, once again.
    It seems that I wasn't so far out when I wrote this; I was afraid that I would get lots of mothers berating me for not seeing the dangers out there in the big world and to keep my well-meant advice to myself.
    But no, commonsense prevails. So how are we going to change things for the next generation?

  17. Hello Friko.
    It is a different world..
    Violence in schools and public spaces have
    resulted in behaviour modifications from all of us including parents, caregivers and school teachers.
    In Toronto schools you'll find security guards and very soon sniffer dogs that would seek out guns in student lockers and other hiding places.
    Can we change our society for the next generation? I don't think so.
    How would you do it?
    - Cheers Gisela.

  18. Anonymity has a lot to do with it. People move around more and don't know/care about/trust (fill in the blanks) their neighbors. The car culture also separates us from one another. Then there is the culture of success where it doesn't matter if you cheat or behave badly, as long as you win. Underlined again and again by celebrities and sports people who do awful things and avoid consequences. Kids who were raised on this morally bankrupt message are now parents. All they teach is that instant gratification is a valid cause.
    In an English playground with my nephew a few years back some larger kids were teasing a younger one and making him cry. I tried talking to them and they cheeked me because they had climbed up high and thought they were unreachable. I have picked up an American accent over my years here so they believed me and shut right up when I told them I had a gun. I wouldn't try that in the U.S. as some toddler might be packing. After a stunned pause they all came over and asked to see my gun, which I didn't have, so we had a discussion about lying, as well as bullying. Small progress.

  19. guild-rez - I don't know how to change anything, Gisela, the parents obviously are in a perpetual state of fear; it is they who should recognize what they are doing.

    English Rider - a good rant, obviously i have hit a nerve. Bully for you for taking on the kids. I too have done similarly in the past and found that kids actually respond to being spoken to thoughtfully and with respect.

  20. Good post.
    Tragic that headlines are more important than children's lives.
    Childhood is where society is formed.
    People raised on paranoia will create a paranoid society.
    The person who realizes that "kids actually respond to being spoken to thoughtfully and with respect" is a wise one.

    BTW, Thanks for visiting my site.

  21. Lane Savant - thank you for visiting, we agree on every point and I (Friko) am the person who wrote what you quote.


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