Playing on the Edge

Banana playing in the water drain at the Millwoods Spray Park.

Some of you may recognize the location in the picture. This is a water drain that runs parallel to Edmonton’s Millwoods Spray Park. We recently visited the park on a hot day last week. It’s a new park – beautifully landscaped, fresh sand in the sand box, clean picnic tables and bathrooms. And of course, the amazing spray area. Where do my kids end up playing? Yup, in the water drainage system.

As I’m watching the Bear float her flip-flops through the culvert, I hear another mother tell her children – very firmly – that they are NOT to go to this area of the park; they must stay in the playground or the spray area. She was not the only parent. Another told her children that the drain was ‘filthy’ (and admittedly, it was!) and to stay on the concrete. All these comments had a similar message: play in areas that you are ‘suppose’ to play in; play in ways that are expected and ‘normal’; play in places that adults perceive to be sanitary and safe.

Now, I have to be careful not to judge too harshly. Maybe there were circumstances that I am not aware of. And there were plenty of parents who were letting their kids explore the water drain. But I’m guessing that the parents who did not let their children play in this area were parents who regularly miss the point of play – to have fun! And children have fun in ways that we usually never expect. Their fun involves exploring, creating worlds, and imagining games that are outside of the mundane world that adults control.

We have to let the kids go to these places – the places that are dirty, uncontrolled and on the fringes. And I am always grateful to the parents who let their kids play alongside my children in weird but wonderful ways.

Where did you love to play as a kid? I only have faint memories of playgrounds – my favourite place to play was in the forest that surrounded our small town. This was a place where we were free to invent whatever world we wanted. We’ve got to extend our children the same sort of privilege. Let them play on the periphery. Let them play unsupervised. Let them explore the worlds that adults have forgotten still exist. Let them play a little on the edge.


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  4. 4 roma June 26, 2011 at 11:07 am

    I think sometimes people are just ‘too scared what others might think’ to do anything that is out of the ordinary. I remember the days before I had my own kids and I took my niece to the zoo – she was about 3 at the time, it was a hot summers day (44c) and she was sweltering. There were some sprinklers going on the lawn and I (as a 20 something!) ran through and encouraged my niece to follow me to cool down. I think it was the highlight of her day – not only did she have fun, she had some reprieve from the heat and we were able to continue on to look at the animals! I received a few too many dirty looks (from parents who had kids who looked absolutely hot and miserable – how dare I do something other than look at the animals!? ) but before too long, many other kids were having fun and cooling down. (the reason I was at the zoo that day was because I was hosting a Canadian friend and time was limited – I probably wouldn’t go in that heat under normal circumstances haha)

  5. 6 Daniel June 26, 2011 at 3:57 am

    Great stuff Tortoise. My favorite place to play as a kid was whereever my bike took me. This usually involved the mill creek ravine and various trails and back alleys throughout millwoods.

    I wouldn’t want to give up the freedom but I might have had some basic road safety lessons as I did get hit by a car as a kid. To add to the free-rangeness the driver who hit me then drove me home. So much for no rides with strangers!

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