Tuesday, 04 August 2009

Clubs and informal play Kids go to organised sessions, kids play out together or hang out, kids stay home. What kind of mix works best? It's not easy trying to understand the social impact of perceived imbalances in a risk-averse, car-oriented, achievement-driven society, but given the power of those forces you'd expect the emphasis to be more on structure and less on informality. Every year the National Children's Bureau publishes research for Playday (which is tomorrow) and the latest looks at 'making time'. Their survey found that nearly half of adults (47%), think children should go to fewer extra-curricular activities. The focus groups with children and young people offer insights into the recognised value of organised activities, and the extent to which they absorb time from informal play. 'It seemed that some of these children perceived clubs as something they ‘ought to do’, regardless of what they felt like doing with their spare time. Informal play alone or with peers was viewed as having less of a purpose than these organised activities, other than for their own enjoyment.' 'A significant number of children in the study lacked any control over which activities they attended and when they went to them, sometimes eliminating the sense of fun. All of the children favoured a mixture of informal play and organised activities, but for many children there seemed to be an imbalance and children’s time for play was often taken over with structured events.' The report also contains observations on the reactions of adults to the informal presence of young people outdoors: 'Meeting together, for example on the streets, near shops or in parks, often led to complaints and harassment from adults, including neighbours and local community members. Amongst all of the older children interviewed, those from Sudan were the only group to discuss their experiences of being reported to the police when they met with their friends on the streets and in the parks. Most of the older children thought this was because of their age rather than their ethnicity, although one child reported encountering racism.' 'If we are going on the street, going to the park, sitting there, a lot of people, they will ring the police for no reason and the police would come up to us and say, “Go away” when we haven’t done anything. That happens all the time.’ Playday research page. Because it’s freedom: children’s views on their time to play. Haki Kapasi and Josie Gleave, London: NCB, 2009.

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