When I was a kid I use to spend more time outside than we did inside. My best friend at primary school was actually expected to go out and play from when school finished until supper time. His grandmother, who used to look after him when his parents were at work, would say ‘off you go Steven, come back for your dinner’. We can’t have been more than about 9. There would generally be a knock at the door, followed by the ubiquitous ‘can Toby can come out to play?’ Invariably the answer was yes and off I would trot.
I don’t really remember what we got up to, lots of ‘hanging around’ as my mum describes it. Sometimes there’d be a football or a game of cricket, other times we’d amuse ourselves climbing walls or finding other mischief to make. We really weren’t naughty (or perhaps that should be ‘we weren’t really naughty’?), but I suspect today if we were hanging around like that we may very well be labelled as anti social.
I think we’re more worried these days about accidents, cars and stranger danger than we were then. And although I’m not a great one for nostalgia I can’t help thinking we’ve lost something special and fun that’s far less commonly part of our children’s lives.
Having said that, my children are always playing in the street. We’re lucky that the road we live in is a crescent that connects to the adjoining road in two places, so there’s no through traffic. Actually, I say ‘lucky’ but having a quiet road was one of the main reasons we wanted to live there. I don’t think it would be correct to say this was so the kids could play on the street, but it’s definitely one of the advantages.
Although it’s not a long road (there are only about 50 houses altogether) a number of families with young children live there and we do have a bit of a ‘child street scene’, particularly in summer. The favoured play generally involves cycling, roller skating or scooting up and down, or just running like a pack of 8 year old wolves. Even our two-year old is keen to get in on the action, giving us the slip at the earliest opportunity – the door is generally left open when the children are in the street – and diving off to join the party.
Like Rob’s experience, I’ve found that children playing together are a catalyst for neighbourliness. Kids don’t stand on ceremony and aren’t concerned by how well they know, or don’t know someone…they just get on and play. And when you’ve been to retrieve your children from someone’s house two or three times, it’s hard not to get to know them.
It’s usually just as we’re sitting down to eat when there’s a little knock at the door and that age-old refrain ‘can the children come out to play?’ And despite my mild irritation at the interruption, there’s a part of me that loves to hear that phrase.