Nature’s playground but it isn’t always accessible
Another study on family life has emerged, this time suggesting that parents have lost the art of playing with their children. The study, sponsored by drinks company Ribena, suggests that traditional games have been replaced with expensive gadgets because of parental anxiety over health and safety issues and an obsession with achieving goals brought on by the government’s testing regime. The study of more than 2,000 parents of children between the ages of 3 and 15 also showed that whilst most parents believed in the importance of outdoor play only about a third said they took them outside. This has led to experts warning that children are missing out on vital learning experiences.
Interestingly the survey also coincides with a campaign by the National Trust to encourage sofa bound children to get outdoors and back to nature. The charity’s “50 things to do before you’re 11¾” campaign includes activities such as climbing a tree, building a den and even throwing snow! Click here if you want to read more.
I think many of us know that playing outdoors is good for our children but accessing it is a totally different matter. In my children’s early years we did many outdoor activities. We paddled in streams, we went on cycle rides, we picked fruit, we had family picnics, we explored local woods but I’ve found it has become more difficult to do these things as my children have got older. It’s not just the autism and the aspergers that has had a huge impact on what we can do as a family but peer pressure for fashionable technology. It is hard to resist demands for technology when so many of their peers have this and that and its also hard to encourage them outside when technology has such an enticing pull.
Try selling the virtues of blackberry picking to a ten year old child with aspergers syndrome who has discovered the joys of minecraft? It’s difficult. In fact its not just difficult its incredibly challenging to help an autistic child switch from their special interest to another activity. I recall one occasion where we spent four hours encouraging my daughter to visit the local park but we managed it because we do think it is important to get out and about.
However, whilst playing outdoors is important I don’t think we should be too negative about technological gadgets either because as I’ve found technology can enhance lives. As my children’s difficulties have become more pronounced technology has acted as a huge therapeutic and learning tool for them. As they have found it harder to go out they have found comfort in indoor games. This doesn’t mean their gadget based play is in isolation from other people and neither does it mean that they are not using their imagination. Since my son has been using xbox he is starting to interact with his peers from his special school something he has never been able to do in his community due to bullying or at his old mainstream school who had no clue about inclusion. As for minecraft, my son loves the creative side of it and has produced some amazing designs which is a huge boost to his self esteem as he sees what he has produced.
It’s all very well experts telling us about the importance of outdoor play but the reality for many children is that outside play experiences are not always accessible. To give you an example, my local park is a no-go area; it is an area frequented by drug addicts and alcohol abuse and where no responsible parent allows their child to play on their own. As for playing on the street, many of my local roads are simply not suitable for independent play due to the amount of traffic and speed at which some people drive their cars.
In addition, those that do play along our road are often criticised by the elder generation for kicking a ball or playing tag or generally just causing noise. An example of this is the little green we have down our road which bans ball games because of the daffodils. As nice as daffodils are it seems wrong that bulbs have taken priority over the need for young people to play on a patch of grass away from busy traffic.
For families like mine with special needs, outdoor play can be even harder to access due to the emotional or physical difficulties of getting to places. A friend of mine who has two physically disabled children cannot even access her back garden due to the difficulties of maneuvering wheelchairs. For me it can take hours or even days of encouraging my children outdoors which can leave you emotionally drained before you’ve even got out of the front door. Even then I cannot be sure my children will cope with whatever activity we have planned for.
As for organised groups such as scouts and guides they aren’t that inclusive either. Their lack of understanding of the autism spectrum resulted in my son giving up on scouts and my daughter giving up on brownies due to the lack of support which is a pity as their elder sister has got so much from her time at these groups.
It’s too easy to assume it is the fault of parents that children do not play outside. I’m sure there are some parents who aren’t interested in encouraging their children outdoors but there are also families like mine whose children face a lot of barriers to playing outside. Rather than blame parents isn’t it time we made it easier for children to enjoy the outdoors and also the opportunities provided by groups such as the scouting movement?