Over the summer holiday I found myself sat on a balmy sunny day taking in the attractively landscaped parkland of a campsite. As young children sat perched on the sweeping road playing all manner of games there seemed to be something distinctively English about the sight before my eyes. Children across the ages played deeply engrossed in ‘mummy and daddies’, ‘babies’, trucks, ‘spies’, ‘robbers’, simply sat talking, learning new bike tricks or mastering the latest whizzy contraption involving concentration, balance and nerves of steel, all on the same winding road. Each time a car approached, play was momentarily put on hold or decamped to the grass areas either side as the car crept pass. Then as quickly as the play had shifted, it relocated back to the tarmaced road and resumed without any apparent change in focus. I guess this is what play must have been like in days gone by, with roads far less busy and children claiming this as an essential part of their playground, whether it be for ‘babies’, football or bulldog. Sadly in all but the quietest areas the road is now the domain of the car and children are confined like battery hens to their gardens cosseted from the dangers of people and cars. As my new book, Sensory Play, published only this week explores, children need space, risk and challenge and if they can’t easily access this they will actually subvert their environment to achieve this. You only have to visit a formal play area to see how few children actually slide down a slide as opposed to climbing up it, swinging from it, hiding beneath it, etc. Sat watching those children playing age old games in mixed age groups, it could just as easily have been the 1960’s or 70’s. As for my own children aged 5 and 8 years their favourite time, apart from the visiting ice cream van of course, was playing with other children and racing round and round on their bikes with friends. With the freedom to explore without adults and the knowledge and safety of their presence if needed, this gave them the challenge and space they desired. Reminiscent of adult’s childhood memories of playing outside all day and comments like ‘if we saw someone we didn’t recognise we’d simply ignore them’ children seemed street ‘savvy’ (Sensory Play Research project, May 2009). So much so that when a 10 year old boy fell and grazed his knee on the road outside our campervan, it was my 5 year old who was heard shouting to the crying boy ‘Don’t worry I’ll go and get your granddad (who we’d never met)!’ More ‘streetwise’ than us adults, it was the children who had forged bonds and established a real community with fellow campers from the length and breadth of the site, reminiscent perhaps of days gone by!

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