“Whoever made you a playworker is off their head”
A direct response to my stomping out in to the garden demanding to know ‘what are you doing’ – ‘skidding’ came the reply, obvious really as they were, on a beautiful sunny day, pouring water down the middle of the lawn and running from the house to skid through an increasingly large, glimmering pool of mud as far as they could. ‘Well stop it at once’, I commanded, ‘I have not got time to take you to A&E, to wash your clothes or to re seed the lawn.’ Lining up his siblings (brother 10 years and sister 3 years) to confront the red faced, fuming mother before them, eight year old Jago questioned, ‘is this garden for lookin’ at or for playin’ in?’ to which of course I dug the hole deeper replying ‘it’s for looking at’ and then he threw it… ‘whoever made you a playworker is off their head‘ turning on his heal he marched his comrades to the far end of the garden.
It is fair to say that my heart not only sank, but fell through the floor. I spend all day everyday as the Director of WPA promoting the importance of risky play, messy play, outdoor play and water play and there I was with my own children telling them a great long list of unjustified reasons why they should not play.
As parents we juggle the reality of busy lives, the reality of work, washing, cooking, cleaning, too easily forgetting to be fun, to have fun. Especially as a single parent, as I was with three energetic children, it is all too easy to become bogged down in the complexities of everyday life, of getting from A to B on time, of feeding, clothing, teaching, nurturing and supporting our children. Genuinely striving to do the best for our children whilst wading through an endless mass of decision making and seemingly never ending guilt for the choices we make on their behalf.
It is similarly easy for us ‘professionals’ to overlook that these are real barriers. It is not that parents intend to limit their children’s play or the experiences that they have, rather that the pressures of an increasingly demanding society suggesting that we should work hard, perhaps too hard and that our children should be well cared for and safe, inferring clean and nearby. We are all swept along in a tide of expectation and agenda, bereft of time.
Two years on and much soul searching later it dawned on me that all is not lost. Prompted to hasten to the field where the aforementioned eight year old, now ten and his two friends were playing with a climbing rope, an armoury to nerf guns and ‘the biggest knife out of the kitchen drawer’ so said his sister.
What! I leapt over the gate and followed the voices across the field. As I reached the brow of the hill I found three children playing on the most perfect of rope swings, designed and built with their own fair hands, in a look out station up a tree and a den in the bushes. The knife, a small pen knife perfect for the task in hand. The laughter of happy children bouncing off the fields and my heart restored to its rightful place glowing with pride.
Then the three year old now five asked, ‘mum have I played out all day?’ It really is an expression branded by children, I had never referred to playing outside as ‘playing out’ and in response to my smile said ‘once I get into it I just can’t seem to stop.’ Meanwhile the eldest, now twelve, proudly flicked through the National Trust‘s ‘50 things to do‘ stating ‘did that, did that, did that, done that, done that loads and that one even more…. ha did them all mum, before I was even eleven and a half!’
So what do you think, am I devolved from being the worst mum in the world for a moment at least?