Children playing on the streets again? Yes they can!

Children playing on the streets

The summer holidays are now behind us, but how many of us can hold our hands up and say that our children enjoyed the freedom of playing on the streets during those weeks? Back in the day (yes I sound like a right old git!) I remember rollerskating endlessly up and down my street without a care in the world. But did I see any children playing in the streets over the summer holidays?

Not one.

How sad is that?

As far as I know, there are no laws against children playing in the street yet there is one thing I think that has led to this sad state of affairs – fear and anxiety. The fear of our children getting hurt or abducted. The same fear that is now releasing a load of snowflakes into this world who can barely cope with the day to day banalities of life.

It’s a crying shame. But what if it was one that we could change? What if our children could play out on the street once more? It might sound like a pipe dream but one organisation – Playing Out – is seeking to make this a reality once more. Hurrah! I talk to Founder and Director Alice Ferguson about how we can ring the changes and get children playing on the streets again.

Whatever happened to our culture of playing in the streets?

I think it’s a combination of things – increased traffic on streets; increased general (often media-induced) fear about children being outside; children’s time becoming more restricted; the rise of indoor entertainment and a reduced sense of community and knowing your neighbours. There’s also a vicious circle – the less children are seen playing out, the less appealing the idea is to others. Eventually the whole culture begins to disappear. We now meet younger adults who didn’t play out as children and don’t really have a concept of what it means. That is quite scary – we know that if we are to revive the culture of playing out as a normal part of children’s lives, it needs to happen now.

What are children these days missing out on by not being able to play in the streets?

So much! Some of it is obvious: the chance to get daily physical activity; making friends in the community; the simple enjoyment of free, imaginative and active outdoor play. But there are other less tangible things that I think are just as important: being part of the “real life” of your community; a sense of belonging in your local environment; the emotional and practical resilience you learn through independent play; the experiences and memories you form… I could go on and on. Although the world has changed, children haven’t. They still need all this!

Is it just children who benefits from being able to play in the streets?

Not at all. A street where children can and do play out together tends to be one where adults also know and trust each other – where there is a good sense of community. The two things go hand in hand and everyone benefits. We know that adults – including older adults – also benefit hugely from ‘playing out’ sessions, where the whole street has a chance to come together. Loneliness and isolation is becoming a real problem in society and this is a way that we can really start to turn things around, using the space outside our front door to re-build the idea of neighbourliness.

Children playing on the streets

How can we make the dream of playing in the streets a reality again?

The ‘playing out’ idea – where residents get together to close their street to cars for a couple of hours, up to once a week – is the model my neighbour Amy and I came up with in 2009, when our children were little. We saw it not as a long-term solution, but a way to reclaim the space outside our front door – for children, play and community. It is meant as a catalyst for change – showing how streets can be shared spaces and starting to make the idea of children playing out in the street normal again. The idea has now spread to over 50 local authority areas and 600 streets across the UK and is really starting to change things for children.

Does it cost a lot to close a street off to have children play in it? What is the process?

The process most councils follow is pretty simple and doesn’t cost residents anything. You just have to consult with everyone on the street, then apply to the council with a simple application form, showing how you would do it safely, with the proper signs and volunteer stewards at each end of the street. We’ve got a list of all the councils actively supporting street play on our website, with link to their policies. We’ve also got loads of free resources and everything you need to get started. Lots of people join the national Playing Out Facebook group as a way to connect with others doing it on their streets and get a bit of advice or moral support.

What can my readers do if they want their children to play outside in the streets and how can they support the Playing Out movement?

Organising regular ‘playing out’ sessions is a big way to change things and can be hugely rewarding, but does take a bit of time and commitment. If that feels a bit too much, you can also do smaller things such as letting them play out on the pavement with a bit of chalk – or people might have their own creative ideas for making it easier and safer for children to play out. We’d love to hear them. One easy way people can support the movement for children’s freedom is just to join in the conversation on social media using the hashtag #playingout – we want to build up a really strong voice of parents calling for children’s right to play out in the streets and spaces where they live.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Since I was a child myself, I’ve had a passion for children’s rights and a sense of injustice. When I was ten, I even thought about setting up a children’s political party! As a parent, this passion was renewed and the thing that I felt most strongly about was my children – and all children – having lost the freedom to roam and play out that I took for granted as a child. I was very lucky to have grown up surrounded by community-minded people, where I was given the feeling that it was possible to change things for yourself, so I think the ‘playing out’ idea came out of all that. But the fact that it has taken off as a UK-wide movement involving thousands of people is really down to the fact that it’s an issue that many parents feel equally strongly about. I’m constantly amazed that so many people are willing to take action to change things in their own streets and communities – it’s wonderful and gives me hope that we can turn things around for the next generation of children.

Would you love to see children playing in the streets again? Do share in a comment below.

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10 comments

  1. My youngest and her two friends played out over the summer on the street when they live…..They played on scooters, with chalk, dolls and goodness knows what else. The reason they didn’t play on my street is because there were 4 children from a house over the road who were feral. They were climbing in everyone’s gardens, throwing stones at windows, pulling trees down, all the heads off my roses and shouting abuse at people in the street…..The children were aged between about 4 and 9 years old. The mother let them run riot….I would love kids to play in the streets as long as they can behave themselves. x

  2. I used to love playing in the street, though it was a small cul de sac so was very safe. We’re lucky in that we have a playing field out the front out the front of our house and we are now allowing the boys (7 and 4) to go out and play on the field on their own. We’re always hovering near the window to see them, and they know not to talk to strangers or go out of sight of the house. In some ways it’s scary letting them do it, but the 7 year old is pretty responsible and I think it’s good to let them have that little bit of freedom. Really like the idea of the Playing Out movement to get kids out more in a safe way. #coolmumclub

  3. I loved playing out when I was a kid, it helped me mix with different people. But like you say we knew many of our neighbours there was always someone keeping an eye out. I haven’t created an environment for my son to play out because I know no one on my street!

  4. I’m with You! What a great thing to sort out!
    I am always saddened not to see more children out on our street. There is a lovely park behind my house but never many children in it! I would love to see more children out playing; it’s so important for their development. #coolmumclub

  5. It really saddens me too. I remember I would ride my bike, play hopscotch with my sisters, ball games and with our skipping ropes. My kids haven’t done any of that except for a few years ago and I had to be with them the entire time. #CoolMumClub

  6. It’s a really interesting topic and if I’m completely honest, one that I’m on the fence with. I think it really heavily depends on the area you live in, how busy your road is, and the age / personality of your kids. I guess what I’m saying is perhaps it’s not one size fits all but yes, it would be lovely to be able to see the girls cycling up and down the road like I did as a little girl.
    Sending a big #coolmumclub high five x

  7. Ooh this is very interesting. We have never lived anywhere with children J’s age on our road. They are all much older. however, we are always out and about on J’s bike or in the woods near our house walking the dog so doesn’t feel too bad yet but give it a couple of years… #coolmumclub

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