When I was a kid we played outside all the time.
I loved riding my bike round and around the canefields behind our house. My brother spent years climbing on to our shed roof and then hurtling himself off on a flying fox. A friend’s place had the perfect combination of chook shed, tree, open lawn, and dark under-house area.
We played with water too.
In the backyard we could perfectly calculate the optimum position for the slip-n-slide to achieve adequate run up, near-terminal velocity on the descent, and complete stop before impact with wall, fence or tree.
At the beach, it was building dams.
Playground equipment was not for the faint-hearted.
Playgrounds had things like roman rings, dangling on thick, clanking chains, prodigiously long, thin, splintery timber seesaws that would crash into dusty divots with a bone-jarring thud, and slippery slides made of sheets of bum-polished, sun-scorched steel.
A favourite item at the harbour was a giant concrete crocodile, into whose gaping, teeth-encrusted maw youngsters scrambled to fit themselves.
School was no different.
All through primary school there was always seemed to be a kid with an arm in plaster from falling of the monkey bars.
And for educational activities we had visits from Ram Chandra, ‘The Taipan Man’, who brought his crates full of poisonous snakes every year for a demonstration. We sat goggle-eyed as he showed how to milk a taipan’s venom, and then (taipan safely behind glass again) kids were invited to hold the non-lethal members of the collection.
Now research is confirming how important it is that we play when we’re kids.
Richard Louv’s excellent book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, demonstrates the importance of direct exposure to nature for physically and emotionally healthy children and adults.
Dr Rachael Sharman lectures in psychology at the University of the Sunshine Coast, and speaks compellingly about the need for outdoor physical activity to help ‘grow a successful human’.
Project Wild Thing is another attempt to re-engage children with nature.
Filmmaker David Bond became slightly, then increasingly worried that his kids spent less time playing outdoors than he had done as a child.
His documentary movie Project Wild Thing has now grown into a global movement, embraced by communities, councils and designers.
People who live in cities find creative ways to play outdoors.
The Brisbane Parkour Association sets up not far from Landscapology HQ: each weekend people practice leaping over, around and between the steps, walls, handrails and bomb shelter at the bottom of Jacobs Ladder.
Games Night sets up gigantic versions of Scrabble, chess, Connect Four and more in King George Square every month.
...and perhaps the ultimate way to know they're popular is that many places are trying to ban them. <sigh>
Improv Everywhere’s Frozen Central Station was one of the first flash mob videos to go viral. Founder Charlie Todd set up the New York collective to “cause scenes of chaos and joy in public places”, as he outlined in his 2011 TED Talk.
Michael Jackson draws the fans everywhere around the world: 300 danced in perfect synchronicity to Beat It in downtown Stockholm; nearly 14,000 danced to Thriller in Mexico City, albeit slightly less cohesively, and with much worse film quality.
Let’s face it, the guy lived in a place named after an imaginary land populated by pirates, fairies and flying boys who never grow up, so I think we can say old MJ had a fair grasp on the idea of play.
How about you?!