Tim Gill published an excellent article in the October 2005 Ecologist magazine entitled "If You Go Down To The Woods Today" that I found very thought provoking. Can you recall your favourite place to play as a child? I've asked quite a few people this question and the answer is almost invariably somewhere outside and away from adult supervision. It was just somewhere you mucked about.
The article goes on to attack the current status quo of tight supervision of children in highly structured play environments. The underlying concern is that if the current generation is not so engaged with nature in childhood, how well will they fight to protect the environment? It's an interesting question and the article concludes with stories of communities that have ripped up playgrounds to plant natural play areas for kids to play in. It makes me wonder what other ramifications there might be with this kind of childhood.
Two issues raised by this article have really resonated with me: 1) freedom to roam and 2) unstructured outdoor play.
It's totally true that my kids have had far, far less freedom to roam than I did growing up. I roamed the neighbourhood far and wide. My kids stay within our property. I grew up playing around ponds, woods, creeks and hills. My kids have a small landscaped backgarden. It's rather boring so they play inside instead. Sad isn't it? I feel guily that it's my fault.
Of course it's not only my kids that are raised like this. All their friends are much the same. Some might have the advantage of a larger property or local streets with very little traffic. It does seem to mark the whole generation. Maybe what we have is a generation of paranoid parents fed fear by the media. I don't think the streets are less safe than before.
So now I'm struggling with thoughts about how to give back some freedom to my kids and get them outside just mucking about. It's worth reading the article and Tim Gill's website on rethinking childhood.