A couple of days ago, my son and I were having a conversation, remembering the 6 or so years when we lived in a gated, secure environment in Gurgaon, India which gave the freedom to let him go out to play with friends and essentially ‘disappear’ for hours. As he’s got older he’s come to realise how valuable that time was and how much it’s missed by children living in the sorts of situations we have here in Dubai – high-rise living with no scope to just let the children go off to play freely and do their own thing.
When I was a boy there was even more freedom. Whether it was Cyprus where at the age of 11 i could head off alone to the sailing club, rig up ‘my boat’ and go sailing for the afternoon – all on my own, or if there was a breeze up I might take someone else to crew for me. Or, in a small village in England where in the school holidays I’d only be seen at home for meals. The rest of the time, I’d be off with friends over an area with a radius of a couple of miles!
I think this Washington Post article does well to touch upon many of the important growth opportunities children are missing out on as a result of the ‘changed world’;
In school, occasionally, I shudder a bit when teachers use phrases like ‘free play’, because what they are describing is rarely truly free. Perhaps the most extreme example was when I heard two teachers talking about ‘assessment based on free play’.
The question that arises in my mind has no simple answer – if the world around us is no longer safe enough to let our children play freely in it, then how will we provide viable alternatives with the requisite level of freedom and insulated from the interference of even well-meaning adults. This one needs some thought!