Go out and play!
`Please can we play inside…please…’.This is what my best friend and I used to ask our parents when we were children, and the answer was nearly always, `No, go out and play’. Playing indoors seemed like an unattainable luxury. Only one summer, as a stroppy 12-year old did I rebel by staying in for a whole week, playing Monopoly with my best friend, with the blinds down.
In my role as a librarian at the Children’s Play Information Service, I was reading the National Trust report on the findings from the Natural Childhood Inquiry, Reconnecting children with nature, and that made me think of my outdoor childhood.
Growing up in a small town in Sweden, hardly anyone I knew was `allowed’ to play inside much – our lives were outside, in summer as well as in winter. I had both nature and all my friends on my doorstep, as well as plenty of opportunities to experience risk and challenge! We were allowed to have matches and candles – but only if there was lots of snow. We were allowed to ice skate on the frozen lake but only after we’d told our parents that the ice `was definitely’ one meter thick. We also had a brilliant adventure playground next door where we used tools to build dens, looked after rabbits or just messed about.
When my children were younger I used to tell them about my childhood, and they loved hearing about the adventures, but sometimes looked at me in disbelief, and asked if I would allow them to do some of the things. `Mum, you wouldn’t let us’, they would say, and I would protest, saying that of course I would. But would I?
If my son had asked for a box of matches and a candle to take outside when he was aged nine I would probably have said no (thinking of endless ways he could burn himself or his friends). Part of that is being a protective parent. But there is also this – I would not have felt that he was competent enough because he had simply not experienced enough on his own. Living in London he’d hardly ever been out alone. I would let him go out near our house but he would come back because there were no other kids out. When I was a nine-year old girl and had the matches and the candles I knew that if I accidentally set light to my jacket I had to roll in the snow to put it out. I knew if one of my friends fell into one of the holes on the frozen lake that you must lie down and crawl towards the hole, never walk, because the ice could break. I knew that if I fell over and hurt myself there was this leaf that grew everywhere that would stop the bleeding. I knew which parts of my neighbourhood to avoid because of nasty kids, strict adults, or the occasional flasher. I knew the shortcuts, the long cuts, the hiding places.
Love outdoor play – I did! Playing out every day, sometimes on my own, but more often with a group of friends, taught me lots of useful skills and I’d like to think that it has made me into the quite resilient person that I am today. As the recent Health and Safety Executive statement on promoting a balanced approach to risk and safety in children’s play and leisure pointed out, `No child will learn about risk if they are wrapped in cotton wool’.