29 August 2011

Children need the freedom to play

When I were a lad living in a village I had few restrictions on my movement, the only one being ‘be home by tea time’. My parents weren’t being neglectful; the same applied to all my friends. Together we would explore woods, climb trees, scrump apples and get dirty. We would also learn team work and risk assessment, long before we knew what those words meant.

Yes, there were adults we avoided for one reason or another, but it didn’t stop our parents allowing us the freedom to be children at large. I have seen nothing to suggest that there are more adults about now who pose a danger to children than there were in my day, it’s a perception created by the media where  good scare stories are better than good news to sell papers.

There is certainly more traffic about and so children need to be taught its dangers from an early age, but it is no reason to keep them corralled in a back garden. Protecting children from risk does not allow them to learn about dangers, all that happens is that when they do escape they will face risks that they don’t know how to handle.

But for parents to be confident there needs to be open spaces within a reasonable distance from home that children can reach safely. Play areas like Abington Park are great for a trip out but they don’t serve the day to day needs. Play areas don’t need to be all swings and slides; for young children logs and pipes that cater for the imagination serve just as well or better. For older children, as well as areas for ball games there need to be secret places for adventure and den building.

With new housing developments play has been integrated in the design, but in the older areas, built in the days when it was safe to play in the street, there is now little play opportunity. These communities need our support to turn any opportunity they have into safe play areas appropriate to the needs of their children.

The long term result of depriving children of the freedom to be at large outdoors is worse than that of protecting them from risk. We evolved to be outdoors; our physical and metal health are improved by it - less depression, less alleges and less fat.

Play is a child’s way of learning to become a responsible adult and parent. Take the risk and trust the children.

Three subsequent articles
Daily Express
Daily Telegraph
Mail Online 1
Mail Online 2

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