Growing up is not just about what you learn from your parents, it is about what they learn from you. You know this when you see the world through the eyes of your own children but your parent’s childhood is in the past, told in stories and faded photographs. They were never really children. I recently attended the Play and Lifespan Conference at Leeds Metropolitan University. Brian Cheesman described the playful relationship with his mother, now 91. This caused me to reflect on how my play life had influenced my relationship with my father.
My father was rarely at home, usually at work or in the pub. As a child I followed many of his interests, playing football on a Saturday and then, as an adolescent, catching rabbits with ferrets and nets on a Sunday. It always felt like being initiated into the world of the grown-ups. He was never interested in my pre-occupations, they were too childish.
There was one exception. I was always fascinated by small ponds, at school I day-dreamed about the puddle near my front step, or the mini-world in the tin bath in our garden. In 1969, when I was 10, I started to roam far and wide, bringing back tadpoles from the pond in Perridge Wood, newts from Flowerpot and minnows from Clark’s Pond. My father decided to make me a pond. We dug the six feet by four feet pond in the back garden and stocked it with my explorations. Later, I used my pocket money to buy goldfish and koi carp, sold in clear plastic bags. Much of my solitary play was with my toys near the pond, Action Man and model soldiers of all shapes and sizes, trucks and frog-men. This was my own little world.
When I left home, my father continued to maintain the pond and then built another when he moved house. Whenever I came home he would show me his latest acquisition, sometimes fish, but more and more, little windmills, plastic frogs and gnomes. We had come full circle. The pond became his private little world, but one he wanted to share with me. My father passed away in December. It is only now that I realise how much the pond meant to both of us, something I initiated as a child that became a big part of his play life as an adult. And something important to me now he’s gone. So it comes as no surprise that the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child General Comment 17.
on Article 31 concludes, ‘participation with children in play provides adults with unique insights and understanding of children’s perspectives. It builds respect between generations, contributes to effective understanding and communication between children and adults and affords opportunities to provide guidance and stimulus.’ The pond was our play space, where we met as equals, something we enjoyed just for the pleasure of it and each others company. That is why play is important, in different but similar ways, to all of us.
Steven Chown is the Programme Development Manager at Play England.