A little while ago Alex and I were at a local bike track, this track is near the river, overgrown and wild. There are two bike tracks next to each other, and this day Alex had decided to ride on the overgrown one. I was sitting on one of the jumps so I could see him but also relax in the sun. I watched a group of children and adults walking along the track above us and then turn and head down to towards the adjacent bike track. It’s not often that we would encounter others at this track during the week.
After a while, I heard giggling and screaming and two girls, sticks in hand lept over the large bank at the end of the track and skidded down our side sending out a huge puff of dirt, they were barefoot and completely oblivious to us. It was quite out of the norm so I sat there watching them. As they reached the bottom they saw Alex riding his bike, he had also noticed the girls and had come to a stop and stood there staring at them. The girls had then tucked themselves inside the wall of another dirt bank and sat there for a while peeking out and talking. Within minutes, they jumped up and ran back up the bank, looking back at Alex and glaring at him like he was a monster.
Alex peddled over to me and said he had heard their conversation. “Mum, they said I was the Big Bad Wolf”!
It then struck me as to what I had just witnessed, and that these two girls, were completely absorbed in their imaginative play and game.
I have often pondered that encounter, it made me so incredibly happy that I was able to experience it in all its beauty, but it also made me very sad because it’s not often that you see children so immersed in their imaginative play while outdoors. When our children are out at parks they are often there for a specific task, be that a walk, a bike ride, to play on the equipment or with toys. These days our parks are not designed for children to go into their own world and imagination.
When you are able to watch children fully immersed in their imaginative play like the girls above, you start to wonder why we as adults are so quick to entertain our children with fun parks, movies, toys, lessons and STUFF. As adults we seek things that have a learning outcome, falling to the pressures to extend our children’s worlds every second of the day. Do Children have time to play these days?
Going back to sitting on that jump within the dirt bike track, I ask myself some questions. How many times have we overlooked the two girls running up and down the bank? How many times have we made a move and interfered with the situation, by talking or telling the story before it unfolded?
In that single moment, all three children were learning valuable life skills such as problem-solving, coordinating themselves, cooperating and thinking flexibly? How many times would’ve we just waved it by as “children just playing?”
“Children learn as they play. Most importantly, in play, children learn how to learn” – O Fred Donaldson