An international initiative to motivate children to take part in physical play on the street they live in is taking Canada and Australia by storm but South African kids are missing out on the fun as their streets are considered too dangerous.
If you are older than 30 you most likely remember playing in the street in front of your house with all the kids from the neighbourhood. Riding bikes, playing hide and seek, learning to play cricket and having fun.
Children from that era had a huge advantage over today’s children. Playing outside improved their fine and gross motor skills, it helped them develop strong creative abilities and problem solving skills. It also taught them responsibilities and it helped the child develop social skills while nurturing neighbourliness and a sense of belonging to a community. Sadly today’s generation is not experiencing the same freedoms their parents and grandparents did and the effects are showing.
Children grow up isolated, depraved of sunlight and jungle gyms and bikes. As parents are forced to coup up their children in an effort to protect them from danger an unseen threat is jeopordising our children.
Overweight children. Urban isolation. Neighbours who’ve never spoken to each other. These are the problems being tackled by a free grassroots project encouraging kids all over the England to play in the road.
The initiative sweeping through London‚ Australia and Canada has seen local authorities allowing parents to close off their streets for a few hours for children to make the same memories – and tackle urban isolation and childhood obesity.
In the Street Play scheme, groups of parents close residential streets to traffic so their children can come out and play for an hour or two. The parents involved say that it brings both them and their children into contact with people around them they’d otherwise never have known.
One of the parents interviewed for a study commissioned in London said: “There’s something quite exciting about seeing things you would never… like Turkish mums doing French skipping. You don’t normally see that: if you think of what is a Turkish mum, you wouldn’t think of a woman French skipping. There’s something quite exciting about seeing different cultures play in different ways, and seeing the universality of it. I think that that’s a real buzz.”
But South African suburban streets are perceived to be too dangerous for children to play on. South African children live in a society where the threat of being abducted or assaulted is real and it is curbing their physical and emotional development.
Research published this month in the South African Journal of Occupational Therapy found that street play‚ often overlooked as an important activity for children‚ conjured up anxieties about safety.
Occupational therapists Amanda Brackmann and Adrienne Daniels‚ who explored the street play experiences of children in Belhar‚ Cape Town‚ said traffic‚ the street’s location and “stranger danger” were some of the reasons South African children were instead hanging out at malls or glued to a mobile device.
“At times, dangerous elements would make the children too fearful to play on the street. Parents in other studies often cited ‘stranger danger’ as a limiting factor,” she added.
More and more parents concerned with their children’s childhood being robbed by being exposed to criminal and violent elements as a part of their daily lives have opted to uproot their family and move them where their children can enjoy the same care free rights they themselves enjoyed.
Australia and Canada are amongst the countries that attract the most South Africans and the top three reasons cited; A safe stable life for my family, better education opportunities and better employment prospects.