This year we were very lucky to be able to afford a climbing frame with swings and a slide for the garden around the log cabin we use for our summer camps. The families taking part in the camp this year all had young children. For us as professionals, the playground gave us the chance to discover some serious problems the parents have in limiting their children’s physical activity.
For example, the parents with children aged 2-3 suggested that their children watch what the older children playing on the climbing frame and their children were pretty indifferent to what they saw. The parents resisted all attempts by the leaders to encourage them to let their children play on at least part of the playground. This raised questions about how the parents spend time with their children outdoors when they are at home in the city. The parents think their children are too small to use a playground, and even in the sandpit they are worried that they will take other children’s toys or hit a child and that that will create conflict with other parents. So they keep their children in their pushchairs and simply push them around the streets. The children all look physically weak for their age with poor coordination and little interest in their surroundings.
During the summer camps, we have some separate sessions for parents and children. While the parents were in their group, the leaders suggested that the children play on the playground. To begin with the children approached the playground nervously, but with physical support and emotional encouragement from the leaders they fairly quickly mastered the slide, the climbing wall and the stairs. The parents reacted incredulously when we told them about this and when the children visited the playground with their parents they behaved helplessly, falling and crying all the time.
Kostya, for example, who is two and a half, had gone down the slide and landed on his feet in the children’s group. In front of his mother, who was constantly calling out “careful!” to him, he went down the slide, fell on his face in the grass, cried and refused to play anymore.
Miroslava, who is two, started to cry when her mum tried to put her on the swing, although she had used it quite happily with the leaders and protested when it was time to stop.
We realised that our task was to change the parents’ attitude so that they could support and encourage their children to play. To do this we had to first of all convince them that their children have a natural need to play outdoors. We videoed our children’s session showing the children at first being supported by the leaders, then independently getting the hang of the simplest games, then getting caught up in it and taking the initiative to try and master new games. The parents were amazed.
Thank you very much for your part in making our summer camp happen this year. It was a real gift to the parents to see their children playing actively and independently on a playground and taking pleasure in it. The parents started to play with their children and said that they were ready to exchange their very passive pastimes for more active play at home. Through play the parents became more capable at helping their children cope with difficult situations without resorting to hitting each other or getting upset. The children have already begun to improve their social skills, to get fitter and to become more confident.
Now that summer is over we continue supporting these families back in St Petersburg and look forward to next year's camp. Thanks to you, we already have a little fund for next year, although there is still some way to go to meet all the costs.