Giving the children the freedom to play safely on their own doorstep, the women agreed, would be good for all of them. Both claim that laziness as well as conscientious objection inform their reluctance to spend hours ferrying children to and from organized activities.
“The idea of being able to open the front door and out they go with no hassle is so appealing,” Alice said.
Moving from an idea formed over a cup of tea to the first Playing Out session was fairly easy — a form was submitted to the council and leaflets were delivered to all the houses on the street — but Amy admits they were very nervous.
“Right up to the last second we were panicking that we hadn’t organized any games and weren’t providing anything beyond some bits of chalk. We had to keep telling ourselves to trust the children, they would know what to do. We just had to hold the space for them. Then they came out — we didn’t even realize how many children there were in our road — and just got on with it. Of course they knew what to do,” she said.
Favorite moments in three years of running the project include a game of hopscotch that stretched well into the 300s and an improvised race between a small boy and an older girl — she hopping, he driving his remote-control car.
Back on Birch Road is yet more evidence that, despite occasional doom-laden prophecies to the contrary, children have not forgotten how to play. Emmaline, seven, and her friend Stephanie, nine, are making chalk drawings of birds on the pavement. Afterward, she says, they might have a race or join in some soccer.
“I love playing out,” Emmaline said. “It is a bigger space to play and you get more time with your friends. We pretty much know all the kids on the street now because this has made it easy to meet people.”
Stephanie also enjoys the opportunity to show adults — who are usually “too bossy” — that children can be responsible. For the parents on duty as stewards and those very loosely supervising younger children, that chance to stand back is welcome.
“Parenting can seem hard work. There is a lot of pressure to do it a certain way, provide constant activities,” said Dominique, a mother of three visiting from a neighboring street, who is planning to set up her own Playing Out session.
“The children just turn up and play. They can hang out with their friends, which is what they really want, and I get to have a chat. It fills an afternoon and there are enough adults that, if you need to, you can pop indoors knowing the children are safe,” Dominique said.
Neil Adams is taking the opportunity to clean his car while his four-year-old son, Dylan, races around in a high-visibility vest with a whistle. His wife Jessica, carrying their two-week-old baby Sarl, in a sling, is chatting to neighbors.
“We want Dylan to have as much freedom as possible. He enjoys being independent and this is one little way that can work in a city. I think our parenting style is called benign neglect,” she said. “Dylan loves it. He gets to play football with the older children. Seeing the kids out is brilliant. It is how it should be.”