Tuesday, March 25, 2014

playing with Crow

Crow and I (and a few friends) have been working on a new picture (possibly painting). This is how far we'd got by this afternoon. Since we're expecting a new blizzard tomorrow, more may be accomplished while we're stuck inside.

This morning I came across a great article in The Atlantic about an adventure playground in Wales called 'The Land'. This was not so much discovering something new as the re-discovery of something very very old. Children’s play. Those of us born in earlier times than modern children were often lucky enough to have enjoyed a lot of unstructured time as children and, if we were luckier still, there was open countryside for our games and daydreaming. More recently, children rarely have freedom from the constant scrutiny of adults.

After reading the aforementioned article I decided to investigate the woman who began the adventure playgrounds in England (there are several dozen similar to The Land), It was after WWII that Lady Allen of Hurtwood, a long time advocate for children's well-being, visited Copenhagen in 1945 where she was introduced to Emdrup, the very first deliberately made adventure playground in the world. Emdrup was the brainchild of the landscape architect C.Th Seorenssen. Even before the war, he'd been dissatisfied with the playgrounds that he had created once he noticed that children preferred to play on building sites rather than the neat municipal playgrounds that had been designed for them. These ad hoc playgrounds were messy spaces, using a lot of left over junk bits that the children found lying around and the children loved them.

Emdrup playground, established in 1943, was generally agreed to have been a benefit to the neighbourhood from the beginning. During the Nazi occupation the difference between sabotage and delinquency was not obvious, and many of the children had become unruly and anti-social. Once they had their own playground, where they could do what they liked, the surrounding social climate took a turn for the better.

Lady Allen returned from Copenhagen determined that all children would benefit from unstructured play areas and set about the business of establishing them throughout England. She had a number of interesting things to say, including, 'Better a broken leg than a broken spirit', but my favorite quote of hers was this one:

.’.. Municipal playgrounds are often as bleak as barrack squares and just as boring. You are not allowed to build a fire, you would head straight for juvenile court if you started to dig up the expensive tarmac to make a cave, there are no bricks or planks to build a house, no workshops for carpentry, mechanical work, painting or modelling and of course, no trees to climb…’

At first glance, The Land, a Welsh adventure playground, seems like a modern-day parent’s worst nightmare. The Land is riddled with what looks like trash and the walls are covered in graffiti. There are children jumping over unsteady barrels and mud puddles, and youngsters poking sticks into fires or hammering wood with (eek) sharp nails. The Land, in my opinion, is exactly what’s been missing from most childhood experiences for at least a decade now.

Anyway, what follows is a brief video introduction to a documentary called 'The Land'. Just in case you wonder these places do have adults lurking in case of need but so far there have been no serious injuries to anyone at an adventure playground.

The Land, Promo from Play Free Movie on Vimeo.

Some parents may not be quite ready:

'My can kid go outside alone when he turns 14.'
'My 16 year old can ride the city bus, so long as a parent is with her.'
'18 years of age is a good time to let kids go off on their own.'
'I’d NEVER let my kid go outside without an adult.'

Not everyone would agree:

“Play deprivation is bad for children. Among other things, it promotes anxiety, depression, suicide, narcissism, and loss of creativity. It’s time to end the experiment.”
~ Dr. Peter Gray

“The child amidst his baubles is learning the action of light, motion, gravity, muscular force….”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

“The most effective kind of education is that a child should play amongst lovely things.”
~ Plato

“Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning…They have to play with what they know to be true in order to find out more, and then they can use what they learn in new forms of play.”
~ Fred Rogers

“Men should learn to live with the same seriousness with which children play.”
~ Nietzsche

“Play is the highest form of research.”
~ Albert Einstein

What do you think?


Should Fish More said...

Wonderful drawing, Crow has a look that reminds me of a genial old bird, looking on.

I grew up in a small town in the 50's, I can't remember a playground outside the schoolyards, and they would be vacant whenever school was out. As a 10 year old we'd be off on our bikes by mid-morning and gone until dinner.

My granddaughter has 'play dates' with other 3-4 year old kids. It's a different world now, and when my youngest calls me about getting off work late, saying she was just catching the bus for an hour trip to her apartment I always say 'be safe out there, honey.'

marja-leena said...

I quite agree that free play is extremely important! That is a messy looking playground but so open to exploration, discovery and adventure, though I'm glad there are young supervisors.... just in case. Great quotes too.

So many parents are fearful of allowing their children to even walk to school or to the local park.

susan said...

I'm happy you like the drawing. Yes, Crow is quite the genial character so long as his Remy Martin and fruitcake don't run out.

Yes, growing up outside of large cities back then usually meant doing exactly what you did as a kid. I had a similar childhood with the added advantage that our house overlooked a smallish southern Ontario lake and there were miles of woods behind.

People do have more concerns about safety nowadays and I don't think we ever don't worry about our children no matter what their age.

susan said...

It is important, Marja-Leena. It's true 'The Land' does look as though it would benefit from a good tidying up, but I guess the people who operate it know what they're doing. Goodness knows, both alone and in company with others, I got up to some what could be described as dangerous play when I was a child. But that's the only way children learn about their own abilities.

There was another quote from the Atlantic article that's apt:

'The real cultural shift has to come from parents. There is a big difference between avoiding major hazards and making every decision with the primary goal of optimizing child safety (or enrichment, or happiness). We can no more create the perfect environment for our children than we can create perfect children. To believe otherwise is a delusion, and a harmful one; remind yourself of that every time the panic rises.'

marja-leena said...

Oh, and forgot to add that I hope you are weathering your latest wintry blast by keeping safe and warm! Hope that is the last one and then spring will truly arrive.

susan said...

It was so nice a couple of days ago we wore light coats outside, and no hats or gloves either. You'd never guess it today with about a foot of new snow on the ground. Hopefully, you're right this is a last blast soon to be followed by flowers and songbirds :)

Lindsay Byrnes said...

Hi Susan
A great post with some insightful references, complemented by your splendid drawing, where Crow looks suitably pleased with such a compelling environment which would satisfy any child’s need for play. But I’m sure Crow also feels sorrow for the children today who aren't allowed to space out and enjoy nature or make up fantasy worlds. Playing outdoors in the dirt, climbing under or over objects or exploring nature can help reduce boredom and undo attention seeking behaviour.

That’s what enthralled me as a child running around outside all day with sticks to play imaginary games with mates and pets, punctuated by weekly movie visits. On the walk home we bought hot chips, smothered in salt and dripping with fat, wrapped in old newspapers- to us it was manna from heaven and frightfully unhealthy. Growing up here echoed Bill Bryson’s Thunderbolt Kid in America -“growing up was easy. It required no thought or effort on my part. It was going to happen anyway.”
Best wishes

susan said...

Hello again, Lindsay
I'm delighted as always to know you enjoyed reading the post - and hopefully, checked out a couple of the links as well, the last of which was a youtube video made in the 60s of Lady Helen and the first adventure playgrounds. Crow certainly does feel for the children of today who are kept to close for their own comfort and their parent's well-being too. A large part of the reason for this change is the fault of the media that tends to thrive on spreading much unnecessary fear and hysteria.

Your childhood also sounds like a very good one - different but not all that unlike my own. Greasy chips were great. Yes, Bill Bryson had it right that growing up happens anyway, but I'm sure you'll agree some of that time can be spent better in freedom than in being taken for lessons or being parked in front of a television.
Best wishes

Ol'Buzzard said...

We dodged the blizzard here in western Maine - but sent it on up to you.
It is spring...isn't it?
the Ol'Buzzard

susan said...

Thanks so much for thinking of us, OB! At least it's on the melt here
which wouldn't have been quite so true there.

Sean Jeating said...

Before reading what has been written above, spontaneously I do say: Children deserve to be trusted in. [If you don't / can't trust your children, just take a look into your mirror.

susan said...

So true, Sean.