In Defence of Street Play!Playtime Latest

22/06/2009 – In Defence of Street Play!

Summer is here again, and so far this year is a definite improvement on last year’s sopping wet offering. But does that mean the sound of childish laughter and glee is filling the streets? Not in too many places. As schools close their doors for the long summer holidays, many children will instead spend their time at summer camps and other adult-organised activities. Yet there is something quite special about being able to wander along the streets of your own neighbourhood with your friends deeply immersed in chat and play. This sort of play, by its nature child-led, is particularly important for children. Unlike adult-supervised games, children’s play tends not to be competitive. It evolves in a far more organic and imaginative way. The benefits are far-reaching, both for the children themselves and for the wider neighbourhood, as streets where children play out together tend to foster a healthier sense of community for everyone.

Designated spaces for children to play such as playgrounds have a role, although anyone looking at recent election material full of pictures of politicians sitting in playgrounds claiming to be advocates of children’s needs might have noticed how oddly empty of children the playgrounds were. Playgrounds are not a solution. Most have limited scope for play and generally children depend on parents to take them there.

But there is a way around the dilemma. Time and again, experiments with traffic calming which allow children to play just outside their doors have shown that through their children neighbours get to know one another. The net result is a tighter sense of community, less fear of strangers, and more freedom to wander, play and enjoy a sense of belonging for children. Under the National Play Policy, Home Zones, whereby the use of the street by children takes precedence over the car, are promoted. But in Ireland we have yet to see this particular objective widely implemented.

However we don’t have to hang around waiting for policies to be implemented; right now is as good a time as any to reclaim the streets! Leave the car behind, walk, cycle or use public transport whenever possible and make residential neighbourhoods safer.  We can look forward to footpaths lined with children out skipping, chasing, playing hopscotch, kicking a ball, and immersed in magical worlds this adult mind could never begin to imagine!

Special thanks to Kaethe Burt O‘Dea of Desireland for use of the photograph above.