“It is a happy talent to know how to play.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson, American writer 1803–1882
When my daughter Eden’s little friends came knocking on our door at half past eight this morning, being Sunday, my first reaction as I was still feigning sleep was to tell her to tell them it was too early, and to come back at a decent hour. I quickly changed my mind and said to her that yes she could go off with them and play in the park. I concede that I did this perhaps a little selfishly to give myself a chance to enjoy the coffee that she had brought me in relative peace before we head out to pick up supplies for our latest room decorating project, but it did get me thinking about children, play and the way we adults are responsible for stifling the joyous abandonment of unstructured play in the neighbourhood for our children.
Do we live in more dangerous times? Possibly, or is it that we are because of the media exposure, more aware of the dangers that were always there? We are lucky to live in a neighbourhood that is safe, with an abundance of parks and cul-de-sacs making it a little haven for the local children who live and go to school here. It is lovely to hear and see the kids zoom past on their scooters and bikes, or playing chasey through the park.
As Eden is nearly twelve, I know that her years as a child, free to climb trees, shoot Nerf guns and play in the sand will soon draw to a close. I know this as I have seen it start, the experimenting with makeup, my high heels and a general interest in things that her older sister is interested in. I feel sad but blessed at the same time as Eden is still happy to play with the neighbourhood kids, some younger than her, and I love hearing her call out goodbye in the street, see you tomorrow … when the sun is setting and it is time to come inside. I love hearing her chatter about what they did and who they saw … like when they helped a lost dog be reunited with its owner. I have to trust that together they will stay safe in the park just around the corner and not get caught up in reasons to stop her having the joyous experience of free unstructured play.
When I was a child, in among all of the dysfunction there were lots of times of joyous free play. Running through Mrs Grayson’s yard, past lavender and pink and blue hydrangeas and squeezing under the wire fence where Mr Lawton grew his chokoes and scrambling over the big tree (like the magic tree in Enid Blyton’s Folk of the Far-Away Tree) into my best friend Caroline’s yard to bang on her door too early for her parents on a Sunday morning. There was a permanent path that marked this sacred trail. Caroline and I are still friends now and often reminisce about those crazy fun times.
So to my Eden, and all of the other children out there – keep playing and don’t let us adults tell you that it is too early, ever!