Keep it simple – play in the street

Following the BBC piece on playing out on the streets in Bristol and Hackney there has been huge interest from parents, communities and those that are in charge of roads. Over the next few days I’ll be posting about some of the ways children can play outside their own homes, without being chaperoned at all times…

If you live in a cul-de-sac or block of flats with a fairly closed car park then there is nothing stopping children playing out if everyone around there agrees. Rules are different across the country, so this isn’t legal advice (and if anyone out there can offer some help pro bono then do get in touch!), but the general feedback from transport planners and Department for Transport has been that the use of closed public spaces is at the discretion of those that live there.

Lots of callers and commentators on BBC local stations discussing street play (like BBC Leeds and BBC Shropshire)  have been sharing stories of how in their streets, working with their neighbours, their kids just make a big sign like this:

And then they play out.

Residents know that from 3 – 6pm in the week and any time at weekends kids might be playing in the street, so they take extra care if driving in. Kids know if anything gets damaged they have to ‘fess up. There is nothing special laid on and parents have adopted the old ‘come back when you are hungry’ attitude.

Where I live we have a car park in front of the block of flats. It’s a good big space, with a few corners of planting, but nothing special. We agreed as a residents committee over seven years ago that kids in the block could play out, and they do so on a regular basis. It means they all know each other, and they get to know everyone that lives here – this is what being part of a community is about.

And as yet no cars – or children – have been damaged, but there has been lots of great kick abouts, amazing water fights and beautiful chalking!

During the school day…

But plenty of signs of play if you look.

If you live in a place like this do let us know – let’s celebrate normal Love of Outdoor Play!

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5 Responses to “Keep it simple – play in the street”
  1. Alice says:

    I guess the point is that this experience is too valuable to be only for kids lucky enough to live in a friendly cul-de-sac! We need to try to bring some of the elements of these street-play havens (very slow/reduced traffic, high neighbour interaction, supportive attitude of adults) to all residential streets.

  2. One of the really lovely things that has happened in response to recent media coverage of Playing Out (http://www.playingout.net) has been people getting in touch just to share their stories about this kind of ‘normal’ street play. Although our model is based on supervised road closures, the long-term aim is simply to enable/increase children’s freedom to play out independently. It’s heartening to hear that these ‘pockets’ of spontaneous playing out are still thriving in some places. Here is one (anonymised) testimony we received which really touches on some of the deeper impact that street play can have:

    “I live in a cul de sac in London of mixed social and private housing and I have 2 girls aged 4 and 6. The area is one of London’s ‘areas of deprivation’ and no one has much money round here. Both girls have recently started playing out in the street with a gang of all the local kids – mixture of ages and backgrounds. Kids really loving it and first question when we get home from school is “can I play out?”. They are making so many friends and we are breaking down barriers with our neighbours. Long time feud with one neighbour now easing as our respective kids become best ‘street’ friends. Kids flitting back and forwards from one house to another. I’m finding it really exciting for them and wish I’d had this experience as a child. Really like your ideas about encouraging this practice and just thought I’d share this with you”.

    Guardian article: http://apps.facebook.com/theguardian/lifeandstyle/2012/jun/23/reclaiming-the-streets-for-kids

  3. We also live on a cul de sac and we are particularly lucky in that one side of the road is bordered by a large green open space. children here play out on the street and on the green every day: you can read a few of my blog posts about it at http://www.playlearninglife.org.uk or http://www.playlearninglife.wordpress.com. We have never needed to shut the street, but children chalk SLOW on the road in big,thick letters, or use one of my laminated PLL signs tied to a tree.

    Playing out in this way has enabled children to explore their neighbourhood safely, in all kinds of weather and with children of all ages. In the winter, we operated an After Dark club (see blog posts!) and in the summer one of the older children mows a cricket square into the green. Tennis courts are regularly chalked onto the road and the branches of trees are shiny through constant, year round climbing.

    We are undoubtedly lucky to live in a place where the townscape and physical features lend themselves to freely chosen outdoor play for children. But there are two other key reasons it works where we live and they are both about adult attitudes:

    1. We are neighbourly; adults talk to one another. This is a classic chicken and egg question – did we talk to one another before our children started to play out together, or do they play out together more readily because they see us passing the time of day? Either way, Rob Wheway’s article in the Guardian this week got it spot on: neighbourliness is a vital element in enabling children’s outdoor play.

    2. Adults use dynamic risk assessment and are not risk averse. What this really means is we use a common sense approach to outdoor play. There is no ‘formal’ agreement about what is okay and what’s not, but if I see a neighbour’s child doing something obviously hazardous (e.g. heading across the Green towards the road without stopping to look for traffic; balancing along a branch that clearly won’t hold their weight) I’ll intervene and I fully expect and welcome it when my neighbours do the same for my children.

    Yup, as a community we do fit pretty neatly into the demograhic you are probably imagining right now. And in some ways it does feel like our neighbourhood has turned a societal clock back 40 years to a time when most children had the freedom to play out at one time or another. But therein lies the challenge, and that’s what fires me up. I’ve seen the benefit first hand of children playing and learning outdoors (professionally, for 20 years and personally for 7 years) and I see no reason why all children can’t have this freedom in some form. Every type of play adapts to its environment – I guess that’s where a lot of the fun and value come fromm – and street play (or car park play, Cath!) is no different.

    Alice Ferguson and Amy Rose’s Playing Out movement is a fantastic way to promote this message widely and I could not be more happy to hear it being increasingly discussed in the media. Ditto PlayPods / Pop Up Adventure Playgrounds and the Love Outdoor Play campaign itself. Isn’t it ironic, that as the Govt cuts start to really affect the range and quality of formal play support available, the demand from parents and communities for support to enable children to choose simpe, uncomplicated and CHEAP outdoor play is taking off?

  4. Jo says:

    I live in a cul-de-sac where there are lots of kids and they have always played out. It’s fantastic for them. My son, now five, is never happier than when he’s out on the street playing with other children, and this has been the case since he was a baby and used to go out and get pushed around by the other kids in his little car. They get up to all sorts of creative, imaginative play out there. As long as there are other kids around, we never feel the need to take him out to ‘entertain’ him – he will happily spend the whole day out there.
    We’re so lucky to live somewhere where this is the situation, and would love to see this extended to more streets, and more children. This is the way childhood should be!

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