Street Life? It’s child’s play!

Egged on by Play England’s Director, Cath Prisk, and a post by Rob Greenland on what happens when kids play in the street, I’ve said I would write a post on children’s street play… here goes.

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.


One thought on “Street Life? It’s child’s play!

  1. I grew up in a Knightsbridge mews without defined pavements, along with a number of other children of about the same age, and now realise there was an unspoken agreement between us and the many drivers who kept their cars there. They drove at a reasonable speed and we got out of the way when necessary. That was at a time when people lived in the mews for years but property began to change hands more often once it became more valuable, there were fewer children around and some new arrivals drove too quickly. I think child friendly environments like that wax and wane but probably re-establish themselves quite quickly because children who are granted a degree of freedom don’t give other residents much choice. I now live in a street with back gardens, where elderly neighbours are being replaced by families. They rarely play in the street so interaction between children is probably limited to the minutes they spend near neighbouring front doors as they get into cars. Personally I’ve found that I have a low tolerance of gratuitous screaming – that’s the only turn-off about having children play outside here, solved by closing a window. Technology has definitely had a impact on the way they play. I have a cleaning job at an office block and had to ask some skaters aged about 10/12 to leave last week because I was concerned they’d break their necks or get run over. It wasn’t an unpleasant stand off, they were probably on their way to the new skatepark anyway, but I have noticed that the car park is considered ideal for skating (low walls to skim off) and they frequently video each other there. That’s apart from the adults who went through a free running phase last year and also filmed each other.

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