To the Point... Parklife

Be the first to comment

For children's sake, let's make the most of any outdoor space we've got, says Helen Penn.

Our local park has just won a green flag award. This is a kitemark awarded by the Civic Trust. In order to win the award. a park has to be welcoming, safe, well-maintained - including curbing dog fouling - and encourage wildlife. Above all, it has to be pro-community, and encourage everyone who lives locally to use it.

Our park is well used by children. There is a children's playground, and a one o'clock club for mothers and toddlers which is always packed. There is a small lake and the ducklings and goslings are an attraction in spring and early summer. A flock of wild parakeets nest in the trees and their bright green plumage and screeching flight add a touch of the exotic.

For children living in crowded cities who have little direct access to outside space, the parks are a lifeline. A colleague of mine recently undertook a consultancy working in a nursery. She noticed that the nursery was always stuffy and hot; there was no fresh air and children rarely went outside. Even going out into the barren rubber-coated yard was regarded as risky, and going to a park was impossible to arrange.

This over-protective attitude contrasts with understandings of children's needs in Nordic countries, where the outside environment is a priority.

In Finland there is a policy that no children in nurseries should stay inside for longer than two hours at a time, whatever the weather. It is seen as soothing and restorative to be in a natural environment, quite apart from the opportunity to exercise and run around.

And since the weather is so bad in Nordic countries, it is important to get used to it, or your life will be miserable. Rain, sunshine, wind, snow, lightness and darkness are all part of the environment. For young Finnish children, experiencing a range of body sensations - getting wet, cold, hot or dirty - and learning to overcome minor discomforts and hazards is something to celebrate, rather than avoid. There are a couple of pioneer nurseries in the UK who have similar policies on outdoor play, but it is rare here.

We have very protective policies towards children. The outside is often more of a threat than an opportunity. But mollycoddling children does them no good. The parks are here for us, at the very least.

Helen Penn is professor of early childhood studies at the University of East London.

blog comments powered by Disqus