Pond life

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.

130710 - 2There 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.

6 Responses to “Pond life”
  1. Janet Orrock - Play England says:

    This brought a tear to my eye Steve- a very moving reflection on a special shared experience. It reminded me of my fathers pond and the day my son fell in it. He was 2 at the time and loved to spend many hours exploring the way the snails crept up the sides and watching the fish weave in and out of the water lilies. He survived to tell the tale (Grandad was on hand to scoop him out quickly!) but he has enjoyed telling the tale of the day he fell in the pond so many times and it’s a special memory for him and his Grandad. Thanks for reminding me of that day.

  2. Mick Conway says:

    I have memories of spending much of my childhood play life in and around water. And I always loved puddles though got a bit wary of them when a cousin told me that if you saw a rainbow reflected in one you would fall into fairyland and never come back – fairyland in Irish mythology was a much darker and nastier place than the English variety in children’s books so I wasn’t keen on going there. About 50 years later a little niece warned me ‘you might fall upside down into the sky and never, ever fly back up.’

  3. janeplayengland says:

    I think that’s how I got into the world of play .. joining a parent and toddler group,progressed to playgroup, junior youth club, holiday playschemes …started going with and because of my children .. and am now still here ..I must ask them about how they now see the play we shared!

  4. Kate says:

    Thank you for sharing a lovely memory and reflection!

  5. Suzanna Law says:

    Lovely piece, Steven! Although I have to say, 6 inches x 4 inches might make quite a small pond! 🙂 Hehe! I ❤ Outdoor Play! 🙂

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