FROM LYNN O’MALLEY: We talk a lot about our children having lost the ability to ‘play.’ Between busy work schedules, programmed after-school activities, and parental anxieties about kids being allowed to wander on their own, we have apparently turned into a nation whose offspring are dependent on screens or adult intervention for leisure-time entertainment.
But perhaps it’s not all bad news, especially here in Lynn Valley where we are blessed with (relatively) quiet streets, lots of green space, and climbing trees aplenty. You just have to look at schools such as Grandview Elementary in Vancouver, which are putting out huge bucks ($250,000, in their case!) to install ‘natural playgrounds’ that emulate the woodland features we take for granted.
I know a variety of local teens who bike the Fromme Mountain trails, arrange great (supervised!) airgun battles deep in the forest, are often heading out to play road hockey, used Upper Lynn School as their meeting place this summer because “it’s got the best playground for playing Grounders,” and love to top off a summer day with a dip in the creek.
Not so long ago, I remember them as primary kids spending a year’s worth of recess and lunchtimes playing in the school woods, building forts and stockpiling bits of rotted wood they called “Chunky Cheese” – the currency they hoarded, guarded, traded for sticks, and no doubt hurled at each other when things got slow.
Schools sometimes put on assemblies to teach playground games. If you want to learn (or be reminded of!) a few yourself, you might want to have a look at this list of traditional children’s games compiled on Wikipedia. Or just ask your kids and their friends what they play at recess – chances are there is a whole playground subculture that keeps them busy.
As adults we often ask ourselves what we can do to foster more of this kind of play. Perhaps our job is to stand back and do less. Less driving to school. Fewer scheduled activities. Less worrying about whether the kids are being entertained, and more trust that they are capable of creating their own fun, if given the independence to do so.
It takes adjustment on all sides, of course. Children used to being constantly ‘plugged in’ will no doubt feel at a loose end when they are first sent outside to the backyard and left to their own devices. But my own mother had the answer to that one – any time I said “I’m bored,” I was presented with a list of chores to do. I soon learned how to keep myself busy without help!
So let’s be grateful for Lynn Valley’s many play possibilities, and encourage our kids to get out and use them – even if it’s a game of ‘Don’t Step on the Sidewalk Crack’ or ‘I Spy’ when they’re walking to school instead of being driven. (Parents nervous about young kids starting to walk to school on their own might want to bridge the gap with a healthy and social Walking School Bus arrangement.)
Hopefully we’ll have a lovely Indian Summer in which to enjoy the sunshine, but when the wet weather comes, keep the fun going with some low-tech indoor play – or a pair of wellies and a puddle!