Outdoor Play in the “olden days” – hmmm, thanks for that, Junior PLL the Elder!

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Image (c) Google Earth – our flat was at the end of the long block orientated NW – SE and the area in the centre and behind the two smaller blocks was our domain.

I had an absorbing discussion about outdoor play with PLL Junior the Elder today, on our train journey to London for his latest dental drama.  On the way, our train passes the estate I lived in as a young child, and he always asks about what it was like “in the olden days” when I lived there.  Today’s sunshine and blossom took me back forty years and our conversation has had me musing on the nature of free play all afternoon.

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Run, Junior PLL the Younger (aka Forrest Gump), run!!

Our maisonette had no road at the front or back, and at the rear was (is) a large greenspace, with trees, bushes, grassy mounds, shady spots and suntraps, deep and creepy shrubberies and garage blocks to play tennis against or British Bulldog between.  The pic below is a Google Earth view of my childhood playscape – this is exactly how I remember it (albeit with fewer cars) so this is not just a view though rose tinted specs!  It isn’t a huge area, but it was enormous to us; I’m still in touch with several of the friends I made in those days, and their recollections support mine; in the early 70s we really were free to go play, so long as we free-ranged with our friends and promised to be back by teatime.

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There were no houses around this field 40 years ago, but other than that, this could have been my childhood.

It’s become something of a cliché to begin outdoor play or learning seminars with the question, “what do you remember about your childhood play?” and to follow that up by noting how many memories are set outdoors.  In fact, I rarely ask this question any more; I find myself increasingly in front of an audience I’m coming to think of as the outdoor play ‘lost generation’.  Aged 18 – 30, their parents (and thus they themselves) were the first victims of society’s increasingly skewed perspective on (some might say obsession with) stranger danger, risk aversion and H&S myths.  The media’s rush to sensationalise incidents that in fact represent vanishingly small risks to children’s safety in the grand scheme of things didn’t and still doesn’t help.

Many of these adults, who are now working with children themselves, did not in fact play outside as children.  They don’t have these ‘shared memories’ – or at least their memories don’t encompass freely chosen outdoor play as readily as I and others of my age recall it from ‘our’ childhood.  The two Junior PLLs WILL have play memories we will be able to share and compare in later life: as a parent I try to model the actions I promote as a practitioner.  I hope (and believe) that Mr PLL and I allow our boys age-appropriate freedom to roam and to choose when and where to play out, what to do when they’re out there, and with whom.  Don’t misunderstand me; we do have rules (they are only 4 and 7 after all) and we do fully expect broken bits of bodies at some point in the future.  Nevertheless, we begin with the premise that the Junior PLLs are sensible, dynamically risk assessing, adventurous small people who look out for each other and for their friends – just as ‘we’ did as children.

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Outdoor play occupational hazard: cow pat on your leg.

My family is extremely lucky to live opposite a large green public space; the Junior PLLs and their friends truly make the most of it, throughout the year.  As those of us in the northern hemisphere move into what we hope will be a fair and warm spring and summer, we ought to be considering what WE will do in order to ensure ALL the children whose lives we are privileged to touch are able to enjoy the sheer joy and freedom of independent outdoor play.  Those memories of free outdoor play are precious and diminishing – but by no means extinct.  I want Junior PLL the Elder to be sharing recollections of his childhood with his own children, but that’s an easy ask – I know he will.

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Only equipment needed, some sticks, an old throw and bags of imagination. Oh, and vitally, Outdoors.

We should really be asking, “what more can I do to make sure that all children are able to collect these experiences and memories?”  That question will be occupying my thoughts in the coming weeks.  Amongst other excellent blogs and websites, Rethinking Childhood, Love Outdoor Play and Playing Out will help us focus our ideas and provide motivation and inspiration for action.

So, parents, you think outdoor play is vital do you? Really…?

I’ve been pondering my own hypocrisy.

Playing with Fire - After Dark Club shenanigans with the neighbour's pampas grass

A couple of weeks ago, exhausted by a relentless day of parenting two lively boys, my patience finally failed when Junior PLL the Elder answered back just ONCE too often.

“Right, that’s it!” I screeched, in a measured, thoughtful, responsible way.  “There is no way you are going out to play tonight.  You are not going out.  End of.”  There was quite a bit more in the “If I’ve told you once, la la la” vein, most of which I wasn’t even listening to, let alone the Junior PLLs.  There were tears (not mine) – but my resolve did not waver.  My boys love playing outdoors (well, really, whose child doesn’t?) and this was a severe punishment indeed.  It certainly showed those two rascals who was boss.

It was only the next day that I began to feel very hypocritical.  I believe – no, stronger than that, I know – that outdoor learning and play is vital for young children’s proper development, growth and wellbeing.  So why on earth did I use restriction of it as a punishment?  Would I withold food or water?  Nobody would deny that they are vital for young children’s development, growth and wellbeing.  Would I send them to school half dressed, just because they were tardy getting ready in the morning?

Like most of the punishments (such as they are) in our house, there was plenty of grumping for an hour or two (much of it from me, as I realised I now had the little terrors housebound for even longer), followed eventually by a “sorry”, and another very dull talk from me about understanding what the transgression meant to everyone who’s ever met JPLLTE, and then we moved on.

I’ve been brooding over this far more than is healthy.  I’m veering between “parenting is hard, get over it” and “how can you preach to others that getting children outdoors is essential, if your own children are banned because of a bit of banter?”.  I thought writing a confessional blog post might ease my conscience, but it hasn’t.  Now it’s even more obvious that I need to find other, more reasonable ‘consequences’ to avoid punishing the children in a way that has actually been far more punishing for me than it was for them.

Any ideas?