One of the highlights of the year is our annual involvement in the Brighton Festival Children’s Parade. Imaginative play, creativity and the suspension of belief took me back to my own experience of the delights of childhood.
Having taught in both the independent and state sector, co-educational and single-sex, I wonder how many primary aged children are still able to enjoy that childhood innocence, without fear of mockery. For many children, much of the ‘magic’ of childhood is brought crashing down before they leave Infant classes.
Times have changed, that is true. Growing up in South-East London in the 80s, I was able to enjoy playing outside until the street lights came on and many of my class would walk to school on their own from the age of 9 or 10. However, it is easy to get carried away with constant doom-mongering about the dangers of modern life leading to a ‘toxic childhood’ (the internet, sexualisation of the music industry, negative marketing, junk food, electronic entertainment and ‘over-competitive’ schooling). Pressures placed on children from all directions undoubtedly take their toll on emotional and mental health.
What more could we want than for our children to be happy?
Last year, ‘The Play Return’, commissioned by the Children’s Play Policy Forum (CPPF), reviewed claims about the benefits of play; not just at school, but at home and in the wider community. Perhaps not surprisingly, their research signals that play initiatives lead to improvements in children’s health and well-being and are linked to a range of other cognitive and social developmental benefits. More interestingly, there was significant evidence to support improvement in opportunities for play to be regarded as a valid outcome in their own right.
Enabling a healthy balance of the realities of modern life and preserving the childhood we dearly wish for our children is a challenge we all face. Whilst we may wish for a traditional ideal, it is important that we are also being responsible about equipping them for the future which is not yet known. Denying opportunities because they take us out of our own comfort zone may well be doing them a great disservice.
Our most popular clubs include paper craft, scrapbooking and mindfulness – all opportunities for the girls to make, play and listen to stories. Our Year 6 girls still relish imaginative play and making up games in their break time. Children can still be children without worrying what their peers may think. Whatever approach we decide to take as parents, it is worth considering how our children will remember their childhood. Although we must not hold our children back, perhaps we can enable them to enjoy a fulfilling childhood for a little longer?