I’m so pleased that my eldest (almost 7) has finally started to play in the street with her friends. It is well known that if you ask adults about the most memorable and enjoyable times from their childhood they will almost always involve being out of doors, with friends and with no adults around. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t play out in the street, I certainly have clear memories of being 3 years old and doing so. When we moved from the city to a cul-de-sac before we had children, I hoped that we would find somewhere that our children could play in relative safety from traffic.
This has come at an opportune moment as I have just finished reading ‘Beware Dangerism’ by Gever Tulley, which discusses the irrational fears that we have about our children’s safety and how this makes them less able to deal with risks and challenges. Gever runs a school called Tinkering School which encourages children to build and take things apart using real tools. This reminded me of photographs that a colleague of mine shared on her return from visiting forest schools in Denmark. I saw pictures of under 5’s using sharp knives with great skill to whittle sticks. She talked of how one of the schools had been on the coast and the children were sent off without adult supervision onto the beach, with the only rule that they were to go no further than the edge of the water. They were called back hours later by a bell. This approach reminds me of the hours that I used to spend in the woods near our house as a child. We used to often pretend we had run away – the idea of being independent was always a thrill I’m sure that I am often looked upon as a bad mother. On holiday last summer another parent looked horrified as my 18 month old stood waiting to go down a big slide. I watched as her child looked worried about going down the smaller one and an adult stayed carefully by her side. I looked at the other parent and said ‘She’ll be fine , she does it all the time with her sister’ as she launched herself down the slide smiling and laughing. I often see parents holding their children on reins as they attempt to climb in playgrounds, as if they are afraid to let them try anything on their own. I once had an argument with a lady in a charity shop because I was letting my daughter touch china pots whilst I was next to her supervising. The lady very crossly asked her to stop and I asked her how my child was expected to learn to be careful with things if she wasn’t allowed to touch them under adult supervision. I want my children to try things with confidence and not to grow up cautious and timid, I never underestimate what they can do as long as they have clear safety rules.
Lenore Skenazy has a great blog that talks about kids and risk taking many daft restrictions on children