Why you should fall off your bike.. and nominate this blog for the MADS 2011
Love Outdoor Play is essentially a parenting blog. The majority of the issues that this blog covers are essentially about the levels of freedom parents give their children to play outdoors. It is the assertion of this blog that outdoor play is important for the mental and physical health of (young) people as well as the well-being of their wider communities.
I’m a father to a 7-year-old and my relationship with my son is one of the most motivating factors for keeping this blog and campaign going. Where we live you would think that children are an endangered species during key times for play, but there is no problem with birth rates in our part of west London… too many children are couped up indoors lacking the freedom to play on the street or make the journey to one of our many local parks.
In the last year my son has ‘wiped’ out on his bike many times. It’s a good thing too as with every fall he becomes much better at riding his BMX and is now making the most of some quite tricky local off-road tracks. My concerns for him centre not the the inevitable cuts and bruises that we can use to map and timeline his (mis)adventures, but the ways in which members of the community respond and interact with him.
When he was 6 he fell off his bike a good 100 metres away from me. A little blood and lots of tears he needed to be picked up and asked if we was ok. Two men walked passed him and did not even look down. They did not know who I was and so did not know if help was at hand or not. This fear of helping others, especially bleeding small children has to end.
Three days ago we were at the off-road BMX track in the woods. He wiped out. No blood. No tears. But a group of three unknown children who had just arrived (we had been there for over an hour without a single fall) pointed at him and started laughing and calling him names. This is just so anti BMX/Skate-culture it’s untrue (anybody who becomes good at any sports like these know that the way you learn is by falling off and then getting back on again.. and for the people around you to help physically and mentally brush you off and encourage you to have another go). I went over to speak to the boys not seeing their parents about 50 metres away. What was amazing is how the two mothers with the children defended them in such a blind way and listening to their 7 to 9 year-olds over me, an adult member of their community.
Giving children more freedom to play is vital, but parents and other adult members of communities also need more freedom and support in telling off children who are out of line.
It is very hard to be in Britain and to have not seen newspaper articles about the erosion of outdoor play and the (potential) effects of this. From the benefits of physical exercise and being able to judge risk through to creating opportunities for positive inter-generational interactions the arguments are largely known. There is a gap though between knowing what is good for our children and actually letting them do it. Fear of them getting dirty, being hurt, out too late, mixing with the ‘wrong’ kinds or people or what the neighbours think are all ‘risks’ that are in one way or another too great for too many when weighed up against the benefits. It’s this easy and all too often wrong ‘risk assessment’ that needs to be tackled and changed.
This blog is about communicating these problems and the many solutions too them. It is based around the simple idea of sharing your positive approach to outdoor play in a public way and in doing so helping to create visible communities of support for play. This is done through the Love Outdoor Play symbol by:
1. Making your own stickers
2. Taking part in community print runs of stickers (over 1,000 printed so far)
4. Going much further like Chris Gregory from The Children’s Centre on the Isle of Man did and organise for the Love Outdoor Play symbol to appear on 190,000 milk cartons and a further 15,000 window stickers available for free in local shops.
The team of us behind Love Outdoor Play, The Geography Collective, extend this work even further through Mission:Explore, our website and children’s books.
I’m very pleased that this blog has been nominated for a MAD Blog Award that celebrate’s the UK’s best Mum and Dad blogs. If you think this blog is good, why not nominate it (for most innovative blog) too.