GOLD DUST – Playing with your kids

By Pam Stevenson, Director of Delivery

This blog is Part 3 of 3 of my self-exploration of how my personal experiences have contributed to my thoughts, beliefs, passions and philosophy about PE and school sport – if you’ve missed my earlier entries, click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2.

I suppose it’s not surprising that when I had kids pretty late in life that they should grow up on a diet of play, play, play. It was certainly worth holding out to have kids with literally the “best dad ever”.

I had hit that ‘clock ticking’ time in my life and if my past partners were anything to go by, I hadn’t met anyone who I wanted to have kids with. So, I opened a “baby account” and put it out there (the hippy in me speaking again)!

When I finally (and I mean finally) had kids with my present partner, Pete, we were both completely ready and we just had more little people around to play with.

Before Natty, my first child, could walk he could play balloon tennis, had been sandwiched up in carpets and whipped out along the floor at a high speed. He thought he could fly since he had been thrown skyward so many times and nappy change involved being bounced high up in the air on the bed.

We hadn’t at this point worked out that we were laying down foundations for him to become an elite sportsman, but by the time he was three, he had physical confidence and control coupled with a hunger and fearlessness. In some ways this was exaggerated even more for my second child whom had an even more cutthroat physical initiation with input from her three year old brother – which at times was pretty hairy.

Our decision as a family to take six months out to go traveling meant that we upped the ante and surfed, swam, ran, played, skateboarded and did a lot or sword fighting 24/7. The children were two and five years old.

I remember a conversation with Nat’s reception teacher who was concerned that he would “fall behind” with his schoolwork. There have been many times in my life when I have believed the lunatics had taken over the asylum and that was one of them!

My kids experienced seven different cultures; they played with different children, but most importantly they were taken out of their comfort zone and routine and were faced with new challenges every day. They built incredible coping strategies for how to join a group of kids playing. They made up their own games and Nat especially learned the importance of keeping going till the skill was cracked, conquering surfing in Hawaii aged five after hours of falling off.

Return to the normal world was bizarre and sometimes painful but instead of “falling behind” they both had gained the skills and abilities that create independent, resourceful and resilient children and needless to say Nat “caught up” on his schoolwork. Again, as with so many of the philosophies of Create, the name “Multi Abilities” only became familiar to me at a later time.

Six months non-stop swimming and sword fighting round the world had also created two children with exceptional physical skills and they both played for countless teams in countless sports – this part of our life was equally wonderful and excruciating. My children had the privilege of being coached by some incredible coaches. (It’s no surprise that one of the best coaches I came across now works as a Regional Manager for Create!)

It is difficult to be critical of a voluntary coach, especially when they are giving up their time to work with my child, but I have witnessed my own and other children literally have the joy and stuffing knocked out of them for short term, ‘perceived team benefits’. This was accentuated when dealing with paid, professional coaches who often seemed to be short sighted and completely lacking in empathy.

The expectations of parents to support their children on sporting pathways just seem to replicate traditional Physical Education. It’s only for the chosen few. If you have disposable income, a spare parent to drive you up to three hours for a game and a degree in detective work – your child can follow the sporting pathway.

There seemed to be, in lots of sporting clubs and county squads, a complete lack of kindness and empathy for how children felt and a complete lack of transparency. Simply, the sport and winning were at the heart and not the individual children.

However excruciating, sport was still an amazing vehicle to orientate my kids through the difficult teens. It got them off the couch, away from screens and away from the other teenage temptations that sadly some of their friends have succumbed to. It has given both Pete and I an incredibly powerful tool to communicate with our children and the hours driving both of them to training and games were some of the loveliest and in-depth conversations. Something to do with them being strapped in.

Every time I play cricket in the kitchen with my 6”3’ son or climb over the fence to kick a rugby ball on the local field I want to bottle it and I treasure these hours and hours as they draw to a close. I am saddened by family houses that are more concerned with replicating an Ikea showroom than providing a playful environment for their children. If only they knew what they were missing out on.

So, we seem to be hitting a time in history when playing with your kids is becoming less and less common, diminishing day by day. Pete and I often drive out to Hale to walk the dog and we pass miles of green spaces in front of a Speke housing estate and we don’t see children playing out. Children are least active at evenings and weekends and have unlimited access to sedentary games and disgusting food.

But the solution is not as straightforward as it was for the traditional PE curriculum that just wasn’t fit for purpose for the majority of teachers or children.

EVERY parent has the chance to play with their kids, whether its hide and seek in the house, off the ground tig in the playground or skipping on the pavement. We seem to be experiencing a “perfect storm” where a whole host of factors have come together to produce a generation of families that no longer want to or seem the need to play together.

When I interviewed a mum following her attendance at a Family FUNS club she simply said, “I didn’t know you had to play with your kids. Now I do its easy”.