Adam lives with his wife and their two children who are 8 and 3. Adam is the main caregiver for the children and spent his own early childhood in a city in Canada, where he enjoyed unlimited playing out with friends and siblings.
Their eldest daughter discovered the joys of playing out when lockdown restrictions eased last summer. In this blog Adam talks about how much this has benefitted her and how the pandemic was a catalyst.
My street has a history of playing out
I live with my family on a cul-de-sac in Cardiff that is very well separated from the main through roads in the area as it’s bordered by a stream and the railway line. We are fortunate that there are a lot of families with young children and a strong history of playing out on our street. The lady who lived in our house before us moved here in the 80s, and her children grew up playing out. Another neighbour friend moved here in the late 90s after seeing loads of kids playing on the street when she came to view the house.
When we first moved, we would be putting our daughter to bed, and you could hear the older children playing outside. She was 4 or 5 and we didn’t let her play out unsupervised, but we always knew it would happen one day and wondered what the catalyst would be. In the end, it happened naturally around the end of lockdown.
Playing out is the most important thing to my daughter
During that first hot lockdown, we were always out in the garden. Our eldest would be jumping on the trampoline at the edge of our garden and a neighbouring family put a trampoline at the edge of their garden. The kids would just bounce and chat with each other. We already felt an affinity with this family as the parents are another mixed-race couple.
Then when lockdown eased it was ‘Can he come round?’, ‘Can I go and play in his garden?’. Over that summer some more families joined in, including a child our daughter knows from school. It was very organic and once it started you couldn’t stop it, and nor did we want to, all the children hadn’t seen their friends or really done anything in such a long time. Something opened and that was it – playing out was (and still is) more important than anything to her.
If she is not in, there are never ending knocks at the door
Every evening, our eldest goes out to play after finishing any after school activities. Either she will arrange it with her friend at school, one of the neighbour kids will call for her or she will see them out and go join in. If she doesn’t see anyone out, she will knock for all the other kids until she finds someone to play with, and that is what they all do. If she is not here there are never ending knocks at the door, ‘Where is she?’ ‘Is she coming out to play?’
It is wonderful and wholesome to see them happy, having fun and playing together. They will also look out for other children and try to include them. There is one kid who lives at the end of the street, a bit further from the other families and he wasn’t playing out. Our daughter and her friends went to knock and invited him out.
Lockdown would have been hell without playing outside
The last year has been hard for everybody however playing outside has helped massively with our daughter’s morale. Whilst she couldn’t see her grandparents, go to any clubs or do sports, she was able to integrate with people and have fun. I think playing outside has accelerated on our street because of everything children have been missing out on. It has been hardest on my youngest daughter as she is too young to play out unsupervised and has missed out on everything else too. She sees all the other kids playing and wants to be with them.
Without the playing outside or a garden, it would have been absolute hell during lockdown, and we know we were incredibly lucky. Playing outside all summer did the world of good for her.
It helps to have solid boundaries
For other parents wondering when to allow their kids to play out unsupervised, I would suggest having solid boundaries that you are happy with and be clear on those with your child. For example, we don’t let our daughter go into other people’s houses without coming to ask us first.
Wherever you live, make sure the children have road safety awareness. Also, it works best if all the kids have similar rules so try to have a conversation with other parents about what they feel comfortable with and find a middle ground. We have a parent WhatsApp group to make communication easy.
We can never move!
My wife and I have chatted both jokingly and then seriously that we can never move because the playing out is too good. We couldn’t recreate this elsewhere – it is so free and wouldn’t normally be like this in a city. I would love for playing out to be more common for all kids.
If you want to help create the conditions for your children to play out, a play street is a great place to start. Or check out some other suggestions here.