Yesterday our whole family spent the day playing outside.
No, we haven’t lost the plot completely! We are on holiday in the French Alps and we visited one of our favourite destinations here: Parc Labyrinthe Aventure near Evionnaz in Switzerland. Apart from the stunning drive there, over the Pas de Morgins into the beautiful Valais (or Wallis if you are a German-speaking Swiss), the park provides a very wholesome and fun day out. Set in the middle of farmland and surrounded by mountains, it contains a huge maze, a tower with high twisty tunnel slides, trampolines, a playground with climbing frames, swings, roundabouts etc for all ages, novelty bikes and go-karts, bouncy castles, an indoor hall with every wooden game imaginable and more. It’s a really good day out and we have been there at least 4 times.
There were many other families there of different nationalities, all having fun, playing together in the sun. As I fell down a bouncy drop slide, one of the children asked me, “Are you enjoying being 12 again, Mummy?” To which the answer was obviously “Yes!” In fact, I’m probably having more fun than I did when I was 12, as this time round I can appreciate playing more. When we go on an outing or a holiday as a family we always tell the children that it doesn’t really matter what we do, it’s the fact that we are spending time together as a family that is important. However, one of the very important things that we do together as a family is play. Play allows the opportunity for exercise, healthy (or in some cases unhealthy) competition and surely promotes “feel good” hormones. It’s a necessary part of a child’s development, but it’s also important for adults. Some European countries such as Finland and Spain have recognised this and have playgrounds designed for adults, even for senior citizens. The UK is lagging behind in this, and although there are some “outdoor gyms” in parks, these are the exception rather than the rule. Many children’s playgrounds are off-limits to unaccompanied adults and even the accompanying adults are generally not allowed to go on the equipment, sometimes even from the age of 12 or 13. Obviously there are safety concerns behind both of these restrictions, but it seems sad that just at the time when children, particularly boys, need lots of outlets for their physical energy, they are spending large amounts of time in schools with diminishing opportunities for organised sports there, and are then not even allowed to let off steam in the playground, but must find less wholesome pursuits instead.
We are all familiar with the concept that if you don’t play when you are a child, you will play when you are an adult instead. My husband told me that he saw this many times in yeshiva – the boys who had spent the most hours learning as children were not necessarily the most serious students as young men, but sometimes spent their time catching up on their missed opportunities to play. The Piacezna Rebbe, writing in Chovos haTalmidim, gives examples of basic activities in which a child should engage, as well as learning and davenning. He lists eating, drinking and what he calls “being happy with friends”, observing that of course they need to be suitable friends. We are very proud of our son, who has just finished primary school and spent the time between the end of school and coming on holiday in a mixture of learning, with friends and in a Yeshivas Hamasmidim programme, playing tennis and “hanging out” with his friends, riding their bikes and doing other boy stuff. As an aside, we also thought it reflected very well on the school that despite the fact that the boys in his class are going on to at least 4 different secondary schools, they all met up the day after school finished for a football and fun in a local park. And we are very excited that his new school ran a Yeshivas bein hazemanim programme after the end of term which included not just learning, but also sports, team activities and generally having fun in a safe and kosher environment.
Maybe the message is starting to get out that having fun is a good thing!