In my neighbourhood, kids knock on doors to ask if so and so can come out to play in an ongoing giant game of capture the flag, manhunt or soccer. I recognize our neighbourhood is unique and special in these days of fearful parenting, and that the children’s outdoor play contributes to strata noise which can be a real nuisance for some people. But we are a mostly like-minded community, and the parents whose children play outside protect that right to play fiercely.
So when a motion was made to ban outdoor play by a few less than enthusiastic neighbours, things got a little…tense. We live in a mixed density community which means we have detached homes, town homes and condo developments surrounding a family friendly park and playground area at the centre. It’s pretty idyllic. But everyone’s ideal of urban community living is different, and for a few of our neighbours the noise of kids playing is intrusive and never ending. At a recent strata annual general meeting a motion was placed on the agenda to ban all basketball hoops. In Canada, so long as a quorum is met, a strata can pass a bylaw banning outdoor play of any kind. So it was with some urgency that myself and a few other community members set out to ensure everyone showed up to strike down the motion at the AGM. In the end we prevailed, by a landslide. But it has left some hard feelings. How do we manage the sensitivities of the elderly, the shift workers and childless members of our community who dislike the sounds of children playing? How do we help neighbours with napping children, too young to play outside by themselves, see that it is short sighted to ban the very activities their young children will benefit from in a few short years? Outdoor, unstructured and mostly unsupervised play is a pretty rare thing these days. We live in a community that thrives on it, but it is at risk.
I recently read a fantastic publication from the Portland Children’s Museum. It is devoted to the value of investing in children’s play and advocates for the collective effort of committed adults to protect the rights of children to play.
Valuing and supporting play in childhood may be the best method to produce thinkers who have strong adaptive strategies and creative skills. Our rapidly changing society needs citizens whose minds are open, flexible, capable and motivated to solve problems.
At the end of the day, we all benefit from kids who play. We want empathetic and thoughtful children in our neighbourhoods. We want happy and well adjusted kids in our communities. And we want kids who can creatively and flexibly work through conflict to solve problems. This all comes from play. Free, unstructured and mostly unsupervised play. So have those conversations with your neighbours and keep on protecting the play spaces in your neighbourhoods.
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