Not just for Christmas…
As we all prepare ourselves for Xmas and check our present lists, its got me thinking from a slightly different perspective than usual, about how we as a society provide for children’s play. The shops are full of people desperately looking for toys for children, expensive toys, when we all really know the reality; the boxes provide more play value than the toys. This is simply because the boxes are not for a specific purpose other than being boxes; they provide opportunities for the imagination.
As a nation we have something of a split personality when it comes to children’s play. On one hand we’ll shell out piles of money on toys that children will only play with briefly, if at all, but we’re happy to create an environment outside the home that couldn’t be less child friendly.
We know that parents are anxious about allowing their children out to play. They are concerned that if they let their children out without supervision, they will be seen as bad parents. Parents are scared that there is a paedophile around every corner (although there is no evidence that children are at a greater risk than they were 50 years ago) or that the streets are unsafe because of speeding traffic. On this issue, however, their fears are well founded. We must address the speed of traffic in residential areas. It is the single feature of today’s society that has the greatest impact on children’s play.
Last year, the Welsh Government introduced a statutory duty for local authorities to assess sufficiency of play opportunities and provide sufficient opportunities for children to play as an element of its Child Poverty legislation.
We have proposed that the principle of sufficiency be approached from two perspectives; environment and attitudes. At the same time we are endeavouring to help people understand that this is not necessarily about spending a pile of money (that no one has) but more about recognising how the actions of many of us concerned with, for example, environment, highways, education, impact on children’s play.
We are trying to create a policy environment were people start to think about doing things differently.
And when we talk about provision for play outside, most people will visualise manufactured playgrounds. They see provision for play as a destination. But we can look at it from another perspective.
When children go outside to play, they do have a destination; back home, probably at the end of the day, although there may be intermediate destinations on the way, and they may be playgrounds. But the key feature is that they play their way through their community. Whatever they are doing, they are playing.
We know from talking to children, and watching them, that manufactured play areas provide for little play in which children want to engage, and whilst they may at least provide a message that the need for play is recognised; they represent poor value for money compared for example to the benefits of slowing traffic to provide an environment where children may play out safely.
What children actually want is the equivalent of the cardboard box. The opportunity to play with all those things that are in the environment that don’t necessarily have a specific purpose, or in a different way to the purpose intended.
If we really want to give our children a meaningful Xmas present let’s use this Measure to really change the environment; designate all public open space as children’s play space (unless there’s a clear reason not to) and let them play outside.
Remember play is not just for Xmas.
Mike Greenaway is Director of Play Wales
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