What did you do when you came home from school as a child?
I can remember as a child running home from school in the company of two friends. On many days we raced to be the first from the school to run through the lane to our road. Other days we walked along looking at the sky to see what shapes we could make out. We chatted and laughed together and on arriving home split to go into our own houses shouting “See you later”.
My mom was always at home waiting for my two brothers and I with lunch ready. We ate together and then quickly raced through our homework. Once we were finished out we went.
There was never the option of staying in and watching television. My mother was uninterested if we said “no one is out”.She would open the front door and say, “Go out and play”.
And what a great time we had. We played outside for hours. Sometimes with just a few friends, other times with half the children from the road, playing chase, tip the can, hide and seek or rounders. We climbed trees, rode bikes or just walked around together.
I look back on that time and remember it with great fondness. I also look back and believe I was one of the last generations of children who were allowed to be children.
The modern world is not child friendly. Gone are the days when children just played and hung out together. Nowadays there is a different emphasis on childhood. Every moment has to provide purpose, it is all about learning and having experiences. Very young children have educational toys. As they get older, children are signed up for violin, swimming, gymnastics, football, ballet, and art classes, not to mention maths and french classes.
In reality children nowadays have little time for play. They come home from school, do homework and then attend a variety of after school classes. This often means no time for outdoor play, and no time for school friends to visit.
When children have free time parents do not seem to rank play as a part of their lives. In fact instead of allowing children go out and play, parents often feel the need to bring them somewhere so they can play. So they are transported to the local playground or park, when in fact they could have played just as happily outside their own front door.
Where has this huge interest in after school activities come from? Is it the case that with more money available than in my mothers time, that more parents believe they should be giving their children every opportunity they can to experience new things? Or is it a matter of competition? Are parents pushing their children in the belief that they will find hidden talents or is it a case of ensuring they are keeping up with the Jones?
Looking at the mothers around me and how much of every day they spend on the road driving their children, I cannot help but wonder, who is it all for? If I were to ask my children whether they would like to go to an after school activity or play with their friends I know which one they would choose.
I wonder where it will all end? Will our children slowly lose the ability to play by themselves? Will the old fashioned games such as skipping, chasing and tip the can be lost? Will life for our children become a series of tests and exams? Will free play become something associated with lack of parenting rather than good parenting?
I don’t have the answers but I do wonder what was wrong with our childhoods that we would want to change it so radically? What is childhood if it is not a time to play? And what is the future for our children if they never learn how important it is to have fun and just enjoy life.