Sunday, 10 August 2008

The Regression of Free Play

Thinking back yesterday to my post about spending time with the children doing crafts, I was reminded of the post I submitted on an old blog some time back.

It bothers me that I have never let me children wander off to play freely when we've been outside. I've never allowed my son to get on his bike and just cycle off to a friend's house and I've never given permission for the children to play freely outside the front of my house.

I can't really add anymore to what I wrote then. I wish time had evolved differently for our children, and I hope as they get older, they'll understand and forgive me for suppressing their freedom.

Here's what I wrote. Maybe your views are different. How much of a free reign do you give your children and are you comfortable with it?

"Maybe I'm just getting old, but the summer holidays aren't what they were like when I was a child. A recent news article hit the headlines indicating that parents these days were too frightened to let their children out to play and that this restrictiveness was harming their childhood. I'm inclined to agree but it's not easy to find the balance between letting your child have freedom to play outside your sphere of viewing and being downright neglectful by not knowing where they are and who they're with.

Thinking back to my childhood my mother had no idea where I was most of the time. I lived on a housing estate that was home to about 40 children between the ages of 6 and 16. We'd all form into our little clusters and spend the day playing games like Kick-The-Can, British Bulldog, Red Rover, The Wild Game and Pom-Pom. Games that took hours as it involved having to run around the entire estate finding each other, or being outside on the front green en-masse playing until the sun set. I was never over-weight and I was NEVER bored.

On really hot days there used to be a superb outside swimming pool in the town centre. It cost 50p to get in. Can you imagine ANYTHING costing just 50p now for the whole day? I'd be up at the crack of dawn, make my sandwiches, fill up my Mum's leftover lemonade bottle with orange squash, grab my swimming cossie and towel and get on the bus. By about 9.00am there would be at least a dozen friends of mine who'd travelled in from a five mile radius and we would spend all day there. The place was incredibly popular and you had to be early to get a good spot. It was the kind of place you parked your towel and bags and nobody moved them - there was a sense of sacredness to the place you picked and nobody violated it, no matter how much they were squashed around the edges or squished into the hedge on the perimeter.

The days at the pool were the only days my Mum really knew where I was. But then the scary thing is, my Mum had absolutely no idea of my ability to swim, which at the age of 12 was very, very weak self-taught breaststroke. With this 'expertise' at my disposal I thought nothing of jumping off the top diving board into the deep end. I still remember now kicking furiously to break the surface of the water, having run out of breath, struggling desperately as my chest started to hurt from running out of oxygen supply. My friends and I would lark around dunking each other under water and throwing each other in from the sides just as we'd got dried. Sometimes we'd thrown in each other's towels too. It was good whole hearted, FUN. Kids that behave like that now are accused of being irresponsible.

So, if my Mum was OK with me going off all day and playing outside with my friends and OK with me going to an outdoor swimming pool, why can't I let my children play outside the front of the house on their bikes? Because I'm frightened they'll fall off and hurt themselves or brake too late and dent the neighbour's car. When I was a kid you fell off, wiped the blood with a handful of grass from the verge next to you and you never did actually crash into that car.

Why is it that years ago you could find huge lumps of chalk in your garden soil to draw hopscotch squares on the pavement and use pebbles as counters? I've not got a single lump of chalk in my garden and the children can't use the pavement because everyone's mounted their cars on it.

Why can't I let my children play Hide and Seek and Pom Pom? Because if I can't find them I panic, thinking some crazed nutter has taken them for a perverse half hour before throttling their little necks.

Why can't my children go to the swimming pool on their own? Because of Health and Safety Regulations citing that children under 10 must be accompanied by an adult and fear stories published in the press about toddlers drowning in 2 inches of water in the garden paddling pool when Mum went inside to go to the toilet.

I miss the freedom of my childhood. Not for me, but for my children. I would love them to have the open spirit I had, the lack of fear, the open space and fresh air and for their only worry to be getting home on time for tea.

Only to gobble it down double quick in order to head out for more fun before it was time to come in for bed before it got dark."

1 comment:

TxGambit said...

OH yes, oh yes, oh yes. I wish I could let my kids be kids the way I was a kid. "Mom I'm going to play." That was it and hours later, I might come back because I wanted food but usually someone's mom would feed us. At least enough to get by.

I have tried to give mine a little more freedom but they have cell phones now so I can keep in touch better and while I worry, I just try to let them be kids.