I’ve written about this a couple of times before – i.e. the children and young peoples’ recreation ground situated about a hundred foot below the kitchen window of this flat. And I’m prompted to do so yet again on account of the transformation which its extension and refurbishment has had, not only on the numbers of children and young people who now come to play in it and run around in it, but on the ways in which the younger ones particularly use the new installations.
The see-saw which was installed only a couple of weeks ago illustrates this perhaps most easily. Take your average see-saw – there’s a seat of sorts on one end, and a seat of sorts at the other.When you approach this see -saw you know exactly what’s expected of you – you’re meant to sit on the seats. So you sit in one seat at one end, and the other one of you – to get anything approaching a child-like buzz from it there has to be two of you – sits in the seat at the other end. Then what do you do? There is only one thing to do – push your feet on the ground and – there you go! You go up while the other one goes down. Then vice versa. And so on. Up/down. Down/up. And thus it goes till you tire of it. Which probably isn’t long. You could I suppose, ring the changes by swapping ends, but they wouldn’t be great changes, would they?
But the see-saw that has just appeared below this window is of an altogether superior kind. First off it doesn’t look a lot like a see-saw. It consists of one huge horizontal wooden spar, pivoted in the centre on two hefty wooden posts which are set vertically in the ground. There are no seats on it. There are however some tempting metal handles set in the side of one of the central posts. And in the ground beneath each end of the horizontal spar is set a vehicle tyre, one half of it above ground. Like this –
Now this invites the imagination. It beckons you in. It’s clunky and chunky, uneven and tactile. Like life. You don’t have to sit on it. In fact, you don’t have to do anything specific on it. You are your own master/mistress. You can stand on it, lay on it, hang on it, walk up and down on it. You can climb on the posts. And if you don’t have a friend, you can do whatever you do on your own – there doesn’t need to be two of you. If your balance is good enough you can walk from one end to the other and cockle about on it as it tips. Or you can stand in the middle holding the metal handles, put one foot either side of the vertical posts and make it go up and down all on your own. Or you can invite others to join you. Or simply put up with them when they do anyway, invited or not. Loads of them. As many as will fit on that great spar often clamber aboard. There’ll be umpteen small and not-so-small children trying to stay on it while some of them try to knock the others off by sending it up and down as fast as possible – and when it hits the rubber tyres at either end it bounces back up again with an exhilarating whoosh!
And then there’s this –
This isn’t just a climbing frame. It’s a sort of barebone jungle with a safety net. Or a clambering net, if you prefer. And the fact that it has no obvious name and its function can be discerned and described only in general terms pays tribute once again to its versatility which, in the end, depends upon the imagination of the climber/clamberer.
What a wonderful way to treat children – of all ages. To credit them with imagination and then to value that imagination enough to encourage them to use it in whatever way suits them. That way they learn in an entirely natural way how to relate to each other, how to deal with shared enjoyment, how to handle conflict. They learn to use and control their bodies. They start to get acquainted with their own creativity. And in doing these things, they start the process of understanding and valuing their own selves.
And – I have been informed by an impeccable source (as they say) – there is more to come. Probably in the new year. Even this is not the sum total of installations. The children of Crystal Palace do not yet know their luck. I shall doubtless return to the subject a fourth time at least. Till then.