Play is an essential part of growing up. As kids we learn so much from the time that we spend playing; it has a kind of informality that appeals to children and can make a massive difference to their development. It fires the imagination, creative thinking and that sense of team work, without feeling like they are in a classroom. It’s also time for children to be children away from the adult world.
And yet in the last generation there has been a steep decline in natural play. Kids playing in the street or local park was once a common sight. No longer. The reason why this has happened so fast is down to a huge range of factors including the rise and rise of traffic and the temptations of screen time.
The new research out on the legacy from the Olympics and a lack of people taking part in sport is probably as much about kids not playing in their streets, whether football, cricket or tennis, as much as the cost of going to sports facilities. Think about where you grew up and the amount of time you spent playing with friends in your road and then fast-forward to now and the almost complete of kids playing out.
But things are beginning to change. There feels like a quiet play revolution is happening. Communities are fighting back. Parent are starting to see the importance of unstructured play in their kids lives.
The rise of forest schools, natural play trails and bucket lists of things to do has certainly helped. I remember chatting to a National Trust ranger who said that as soon as they advertised a den-building day the places sold out almost as fast as tickets for Glastonbury. At another Trust event in deepest Somerset kids from Taunton and Bridgewater spent the day chasing butterflies and racing snails, giving them an outlet for running about and having fun that has become restricted in many places.
And it’s not just happening in rural areas. Councils are looking at their attitudes to play and risk. People are coming together to close their streets so that the kids can play outside the front door. The city farm movement also plays an important role in giving children and families access to a little bit of the countryside in urban areas.
It will take time to see real change. But on play day 2015 there are grounds for some optimism. We can’t rest on our laurels and we’ll need to continue our hard work. But the momentum feels like its shifting and now is the time to start to grapple with some of the really big barriers such as traffic, making green spaces accessible and giving people the confidence to have a wild time. Every kid should have the right to play and as adults we have the duty to make that happen.