Are dens and daisy chains things of the past?
Today there are many reasons that parents and children are less likely to want to play out than in the past. Perhaps as the years go by, children playing in the streets and parks with be a rare sight. I hope not, but I am not the only one concerned that fewer children and adults are spending time playing, and playing out.
Newspapers are reporting figures like “72 per cent of today’s parents preferred playing outside, only 40 per cent of today’s children would swap time in front of the TV or computer for outdoors play”. Also “42 percent of children aged between 5 and 16 have never made a daisy chain and 25 % have never rolled down a hill,” and In the late 1970s, 90 per cent of children walked to primary school. Now it is just 10 per cent.The distance parents are willing to let children roam while playing has decreased massively over the last two generations.
Why are children not playing out and is it a problem that they aren’t? More roads, more cars, more houses, mortgages, more gadgets, more television, more competitive sport, more homework, more work for parents, more reports of missing people, more litter, more dog poo, more keeping up with the Jones, more moving house, more variation in religious beliefs and social customs, more fear and cotton wool to wrap our children in…I could go on and on. The pressures of modern life on adults and children are huge and it is not surprising that playtime is being squeezed til the tube is almost empty! Added to that many parents feel too unfit, embarrassed and inhibited to play.., and mobile phones can be a real distraction to real human interaction.
The lack of time playing, inside and out, is leading to many problems. Studies are linking childhood obesity, Adhd, a lack of social skills and empathy as well as the lack of caring attitude to place and planet to the absence of play time and especially outdoor play.
Play is positive. Play, especially outdoors, increases fitness, interaction, negotiation, cooperation, imagination, determination. Play increases the ability to cope with painful or stressful situations and also to unwind through activity and laughter. Play helps the brain develop new pathways through problem solving, new ways of moving,, new sights, new smells, new textures, new crafts and skills as children naturally explore and test physical boundaries and limits to their abilities. Play helps people to respect different ways of seing the world, ideas and beliefs. Play even delays mental decline in old age!
Children learn through example and actions are often louder than words. It is not enough anymore to simply open the door and say “ Go play out!”. Our children need us to play too. We have to set an example, even if it is just for 15 minutes. When we play, and are immersed in the play, there is no past, no future, just now. Being present. That is one of the secrets of happiness and emotional health that children help us adults learn.
So how do we play? What can we do as parents to facilitate play? A thousand mile journey starts with just one step. Even a short walk out can lead to an imaginary adventure. Making up games is comes naturally to children. This morning my son and I played islands and throwing stones when we went to see what the river was doing after last night’s rain. We played lifeboats and rescued snails from grass stems in the puddles we had just jumped into in our wellies. As he ran zig zag back and forth across a path in the park I was a dragon going to eat him up if I caught him. We talked about seemingly random things like football and cuckoo laying eggs in other bird’s nests how to notice if the river was rising. All this in 30 minutes. For quarter of an hour before breakfast another day we played the hot and cold game…where we took it in turns to hide something (a knitted can of beans made by the knitting club at school!) about the house and say “warmer” or “colder” til we had found it.
Hide and seek, playing catch, it, den building, dressing up, flying like a bird, dropping leaves as they become wind dancers or throwing them in the air to be fireworks, stomping in puddles and making paper or leaf boats to float in them, using sticks and leaves to make a den for a child’s cuddly toy or a garage for a favourite car, having a picnic, climbing a tree, making up songs or playing at rhyming or associating words, being chefs at home (or making mud pies in the park), being a fox, going fishing in the bath for paper clips with a magnet on a string, laying a treasure hunt, rolling down a hill or doing roly-polys on the grass, making daisy chains or playing pirates on a bench in the park and not stepping in the gaps the sharks live in – that and alot more besides, is play.
Remembering the games we played as kids, making up new ones and going along with your own children’s ideas is fun and in my view essential for our own health, just as much as it is for theirs, our communities and our common future. I am not the only one. Other dads are up for it too. Austin Healey, former England International and father of four girls between 3 and 9 said, “We all have busy lives but parents need to make time to play with their kids and to encourage them to play. Even if it is just for 15 minutes a day parents have got to make the effort because the benefits are huge!”
Are you willing to open the door or make a daisy chain?
Chris Holland April 2012
Chris Holland has been a self employed environmental educator since 2000. He playfully connects people with nature, themselves and their communities through a practical and inspirational blend of bushcraft, environmental art, foraging, nature awareness, outdoor play, storytelling and world music. Chris wrote his first book, I love my World in 2009, which is a bible for parents, teachers, forest school leaders and play rangers.