I used to ride down that?! How freedom to play made me the person I am today

Ashley Rogers

Guest post – Jim Rogers, father of Ashley Rogers, Development Officer at Play England

Now in my middle years – my childhood seems a little sketchy to say the least. My over-riding memory of that time was that it was happy, full of fun and although I’m sure I was, that I was seldom bored. I was born and brought up in Welwyn Garden City – a fast developing town 20 miles north of London. We lived close to the town centre but somewhat surprisingly also very close to Sherrards Woods – my playground. And the main railway line to the North. With steam engines! I progressed from home made go karts (I had an older brother) to riding my bike. Everywhere. As soon as I was deemed old enough I would head for the woods – on my bike – of course! I would be gone for hours, making camps, playing cowboys and Indians, the choice was endless! There was no phone, and the phones at my friends’ houses were not exactly free for me to use to ‘phone home’ if I needed to either. I believe I’m quoting my Mum correctly by saying ‘he’ll be home when he’s hungry’. My Mum and Dad were very trusting (I did my best never to betray that trust) and although I have no idea where or when the ‘boundaries’ came in – I was always back well before dark. My Mum made cakes so I was normally accompanied by at least one friend! A cycling proficiency course was mandatory, I also rode to school. Without a pass certificate my bike was not an option. The Woods as it was known was my adventure playground – I never let on to my parents about the ‘dell’. I revisited the dell as an adult – I used to ride down that!?

As they got older they were allowed to play behind the house in a cul-de-sac. Of course this was dependent on three things. The lack of traffic, the watchful gaze of our neighbours and – most important of all – trust.

And it’s based on my childhood memories that I set the boundaries for my own two children. My children played in the garden as most children do. Did I actively discourage computer play? I suppose I did – at least I’m sure I encouraged a balance in their play. Outdoor as much (or more) than indoors. They also played in front of the house with friends. We did as much as we could to make that safe for them. Riding tricycles, go karts [sadly not the home made kind] and later two wheel bikes on the relative safety of the pavement. As they got older they were allowed to play behind the house in a cul-de-sac. Of course this was dependent on three things. The lack of traffic, the watchful gaze of our neighbours and – most important of all – trust. Cycling proficiency had long since gone but a keen cyclist myself I made sure that they were both able to negotiate minor road traffic. So when it came time to ‘spread wings’ a little more they were permitted to roam a little further. If I’m honest my concerns small though they were, were for my daughter in the main. My son would disappear with at least one friend but not always return with one. My daughter would always be with a friend. For her to venture home alone was not encouraged. And definitely before it was anywhere near dark! For the most part we knew where they were and with whom and of course there must have been ‘scrapes’ that we still haven’t heard anything about, but they survived. The home made BMX ramps were famous as was tree climbing – a chip off the old block? Were we more protective than our parents? If I’m honest I would say yes. We didn’t have the option of a mobile phone and I’m sure it’s not quite as easy to judge these days the exact point to set the boundaries. The most important things for me, as a Father were, common sense, knowing your child and his or her friends and the all important thing – instilled into me as a child – trust.

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