What access to free play tells us about our attitudes towards children

A photograph of a woman in Taiwan making soap bubbles in a public square with children playing along. A soap bubble is in the foreground, with the action in the background.

(Header photo by Jien Chun)
What do you see when you have a child in front of you? Do you see someone to protect? A nuisance? A person in a different developmental stage than you? Do you see that child at all? I started asking myself these questions after talking to Christine Lee, a play activist in Taiwan and a member of this community. She told me she used to find it surprising when her friends in Europe talked directly to her children and asked them how they were, because adults tend to ignore children in Taiwan. Lee said that one of the main problems she identifies in her home country is that the Confucian culture is adult-centric, with children considered as having to respect adults, and there is also a lot of sexism, with children seen mainly as the responsibility of mothers.

I understand that there are different cultural approaches to children. From my experience, for example, people in Greek, Argentine or Italian restaurants are quite tolerant of a toddler running around, compared to some establishments in Switzerland. But what does this translate into when it comes to real life? Are politicians informed by these cultural views when they draw up policies? Do we adults think of children when we furnish our homes? Are we really making space for them and their developmental needs, or do we just expect them to find their way in an adult world, and grow up as fast as they can? (And if so, is that hugely problematic?)

The coronavirus has disrupted millions of lives, exacerbating previous inequalities and highlighting some of the underlying structures of our societies. When it comes to children, it’s become clear that in many cases they are having it much harder during the pandemic. Think of The Philippines, where under-15s represent a third of the population: 

4 thoughts on “What access to free play tells us about our attitudes towards children

    1. In most participatory workshops, children are invited to see example pictures of all kinds of play-spaces with various play functions, and use coloured-dot stickers to choose several what they like the best.

      Then, with loose materials like doughs, pipe-cleaners, ice-lolly sticks, gravels, coloured papers etc. to create their own dream play-space. They would be invited to tell the designers how they play in their own designed play-space, or not, if they don’t want to speak in public they can do that to their parents to fill in feedback forms.

      Designers would draft playground blueprints according to the above designs and discuss with professional adults such as child psychologists, occupational therapists, playground standard inspectors and us (Taiwan PfC) to finalise the design.

      In some cases, children would be able to paste their designs or artworks to playground walls to honour the participatory process; and in some cases, children would be invited to test-play the playgrounds to be inaugurated.

      In experimental cases, play-leaders would build temporary play structures (built with cardboards, pipes, ropes, pallets etc.) for children to play onsite for the designated playground to be built or to be renovated. Parents and designers would observe how children play with the loose materials and discuss playground blueprints accordingly.

      Hope this explains to some extent. 😀

  1. I just wanted to say that I am here and still loving to read your posts. I don’t have a lot of time lately to comment or ask questions, but I’ll do my best. For now, please just know that I’m enjoying and loving your work and that your newsletters are a wonderful moment to pull away from my busy days and look at different ideas and perspectives that I find both rewarding and important to my own personal growth. So thank you!

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