As we headed for Rockingham yesterday through this area, with bush on each side of the road, I commented to Phil how nice it was to have these buffers where you couldn't see any houses and it was like driving in the country. Incidentally, the traffic lights in the distance are on the intersection of Stock Road which is part of our National Highway 1 (more of that in a later post).
School holidays are in full swing here and Phil responded by saying "When I was young you'd see children playing in there, making cubby houses and just generally having fun". This brought to mind an article last week in our local paper "The Cockburn City Herald" and I quote:
"PLAY SCHOOLS IN" (by Steve Grant) As Principal of Baldivis primary school John worthy saw first-hand the transition of students from free-range country kids to caged city slickers. As high-density housing swallowed up the farmland and the urbanites moved in the local tradition of dropping kids off at the school gate and letting them run down the driveway came to an end. Instead there was a chaotic jam of parents trying to chauffeur them to the front door.
After school, kids once disappeared into a world of make-believe in bushland and paddocks till nightfall and hunger brought them home. They then started disappearing behind the telly instead. Mr Worthy noticed his charges becoming less socialised, increasingly aggressive and more likely to struggle in class.
It fired his interest in how children play, particularly in nature and the seed of his current thesis was planted.
Now based at Beaconsfield primary, the 32-year veteran of teaching is being given the opportunity to try some of his ideas on a grand scale, with the school about to create Fremantle's first large scale nature playground.
Two derelict houses have been demolished next to the school, making room for a playground that will link classrooms to the school oval. The houses' presence meant the kids used to go on an excursion simply to play footy 20 metres away.
Mr Worthy says the aim of the finished playground is to be a community facility. He has the enthusiastic backing of the P and C President who has two young sons at the school. She said (and this is the part that got me really thinking) "We have a tiny backyard, so it's a great opportunity for my kids to get outside to play and we'll be coming here on the weekends too.""
There was more about planning and how the local politicians and a local firm were becoming involved and that the Council will help in any way it can with the project. The firm CODA has already donated $20,000 of designs to help develop the playround and integrate it into the existing site and local MP's donated saplings (young trees) and trowels.
I remarked on the President of the P and C saying how tiny their backyard is with no room for children to play. In Perth these days there are some building blocks less than 400 square metres and for some reason there is this tendency to build huge double storey homes with barely enough room to walk around them. We have a quite big front garden here and a large back garden and all our grandchildren used to have fun climbing trees or just doing what kids do outdoors. They were also fortunate to have room in their own gardens to play.
These days children seem to spend much of their free time in front of the TV set or computer and most seem to have smart phones and keep texting each other often about quite inconsequential matters. Another thing is the lack of decent footpaths in suburban areas. We have a concrete footpath on the other side of our street but not on our side. When I was a child there were bitumen footpaths on both sides of nearly all suburban streets. You could use chalk to draw hopscotch on them and most houses also had front fences (these days very few do) and you could tie one end of the skipping rope to the cyclone fence and, with one friend on the other end of the rope, you could skip to your heart's content, taking it in turns to be the one on the end of the rope.
When Perth was much, much smaller than the urban sprawl of modern times I remember going into the bush and picking wildflowers or going to the local park to play. We have several parks near us with beautiful play equipment but I seldom, if ever, see that equipment being used. I am sure it's not just stranger danger that keeps children away but they've lost the art of really having fun and keeping healthy by just being out there....doing stuff.
I take my hat off to Mr Worthy and hope his project gets off the ground really quickly so that children in the area learn what it is like to really enjoy being outdoors again.