When I was young… and really, I’m not that old… I played.
In fact, when I was Morgan’s age, most of my play was uninterrupted, unsupervised, free Me-Time. My mom got on with doing her thing… and she let Soo and I do our thing. She’d call us in for dinner when it started to get dark – but other than that, we were left to our own devices.
Back then, we lived on a smallholding in Benoni that we fondly (or not so fondly) referred to as “The Plot”. We had 6 acres of land… a swimming pool, a trampoline, loads of trees to climb, fields to explore and animals to interact with.
Some of the things we did during those years (and this is a small list):
- Built our own tree houses. One was in the willow tree… the other was in the apricot tree. For a Christmas present, my parents renovated the Apricot Treehouse – into a *proper* treehouse… complete with roof tiles, carpets, balcony and trap-door with rope ladder. Best. Christmas-Prezzie. Ever!
- Built our own forts. This was one of our favourite games… pretending that we were stranded on a desert island and that we needed to ‘survive’ and build our own fort and hunt our own food.
- Raced BMX bikes. We even had a BMX bike track in the back of our ample yard. My dad made a deal with a friend who had a earthmoving machine. The friend got a Cosy-Gas-Log-Fire… and we got a BMX track (which made me the envy of all the boys in my class at school).
- Milked the cow, collected eggs from the chickens, picked fruit from the trees, helped my mom to make jam and to bottle and preserve fruit…
- Had rotten apricot fights (see photo at the top of this post).
- Rode the horse. His name was Billy, and every Wednesday, I would canter him up the road to Jill’s house for horse-riding lessons.
- Climbed many things (oh, how I loved to climb!). Apart from climbing every large tree on the property, we could often be found on the roof (of the double-storey house)… or on the roof of the garage.
- Digging for “secret treasure”… (or burying secret treasure… including Prince Charles & Lady Di coins from my parents’ collection which were never retrieved from the earth of The Plot).
- Playing Matador with Rooster Fight.
- Swimming (and inventing all kinds of pool-games).
- Making pots and other little things out of natural clay found in a small pond right at the end of our largest field.
(Again – this is just the tip of the iceberg)…
Back then… my mother didn’t hover around, checking up on me all the time. We were allowed to go for walks on our own… (in fact, that’s how I’d go and visit my best friend Sonja… I would walk to her house, on my own). We were allowed to ride our bikes in the street – and I was allowed to ride my horse to riding lessons every Wednesday – on my own.
Back then, there was very little on the TV that interested us. Occasionally, we’d hire a video from the video store -but only on special occasions. If we played inside, we’d make up our own games… and I was never bored. There was a piano I could play… or other musical instruments I could experiment with. There was a small typewriter that I could type my short stories on. There was loads of art supplies, paper, pens and other creative materials. We had a massive bookshelf, bursting with books of all sizes and topics. We had a bag of paper dolls that my cousin had given us. We had pets to play with (dogs, cats, hamsters, rats… and on occasion, we looked after spiders, captured snakes and a newly-hatched guinea fowl called Henry). We were allowed to bake or create our own kitchen masterpieces (I used to make chocolate fudge… and Soo’s favourite recipe was Creme Caramel)…
There was a record player – and we could play our favourite music… and choreograph dances and write and rehearse plays. There was a generous collection of records – both for adults and for kids. There was a dress-up box – with countless items to dress up in.
And then, there was the privacy of our rooms. Soo and I had a huge bedroom. The upstairs section of the house was our domain. It had it’s own balcony and bathroom… and it’s where many, many friends and cousins visited… and where many, many games were played (and fights were had).
I often say that I survived my rotten school-experience – simply because of the variety of what was on offer at home. My play-needs were met. My creative-needs were met. I learned more at home than what I did at school (and it’s also where I began nurturing my talents and passions).
The things that I’m good at today… the talents and the skills that I’ve developed and which earn me an income today…. were ALL birthed and nurtured at home – in the creative and free environment that my mother had created.
I don’t think Mom realised it at the time… but in retrospect, I look back on those years – and I’m so… relieved… that I had an *outlet* for my creativity… and for my curious and adventurous spirit.
Mom – recognising my creative gift – sent me to art classes with my aunt. Unlike school (with things like potato prints and only 3 colours of vile powder paint – red, blue and mustard)… my aunt challenged me creatively – and refused to patronise me with “easy” projects.
The same was true of music. My first piano arrived in our home as a birthday gift for my 8th birthday (because Mom had wisely detected my love for music). School didn’t teach me music. I taught myself music… on that Bentley.
Additionally, my mother had me join an amateur children’s theatre production company called Protea Choral Society… and I loved it there. In so many ways, I felt at home in those creative spaces… where there was singing, dancing, composing, storytelling and art (none of which were on offer at my school).
My creativity survived in spite of that awful, soul-destroying experience known as “school”… because my mother had equipped me with the resources I needed most… and had set me free to use them in whichever way I chose. Without Mom even realising it, she had plugged me in to the Interest-Led-Learning lifestyle which I now carry forward with my own children, today.
No… seriously…. THANK-YOU, Mom!!!
The reason why I write this post (apart from wanting to publicly thank my Mom)… is because I have noticed such an enormous change in the world we live in today.
Play… and opportunities for children to play… and create… and initiate and learn (in a natural way… in a natural environment) are now very, very different. No longer are children encouraged to ride their bikes in the street… or walk to the home of their friends… or do anything – really – without constant adult supervision and monitoring.
Even children’s playgrounds have morphed into plasticky “safe” zones…. rather than organic spaces where kids can still push the boundaries (and learn in the process)…
I find this to be very sad. I think kids are really missing out on something special…
I recently read a BRILLIANT article about WHY this might be the case – and what we (as parents) can do, to turn the situation around. I strongly recommend THIS ARTICLE to all parents. Seriously, it’s such a good, thought-provoking read.
Secondly, I watched a brilliant TED talk by Dr. Peter Gray (recommended by Ken Robinson). It’s called “The Decline of Play and the Rise of Mental Disorders”. Here it is:
More PLAY… less “SCHOOL”. Children learn best during play. The glaring evidence is all there. Whether we take any notice of it is still up for debate.