Originally uploaded by antje b.
I just read this article in the Guardian about findings regarding the loss of physical strength in 10-year-olds, with one in ten in 2008 unable or unwilling to hold his own body weight hanging from a bar, when in 1998 it had been one in 20. With at the same time a comparable body mass index, indicating that the children, for the same weight, are carrying less muscle and instead more fat around with them.
Until I was 9 years old, we lived in a rented flat in one of 3 low-rise blocks built from yellow brick in the 1930ies. They hemmed in a huge courtyard with a little fenced-in garden with some fruit trees, a broken and disused concrete paddling pool that I only ever saw water in after the rain, some wild patch of grass and shrubs and two rows of garages in the centre, surrounded by a footpath, and a square of lawn lined by hedges for every back entrance of the buildings with room to hang the washing... and for children to play.
There was no official playground in that yard but there were trees and a little hill at the far end to climb, catch and hide and seek to play, and the footpath around the centre island of the courtyard served as a bicycle track for the children who knew how to ride a bike already. I remember I was out there every day, except when it was raining.
I also went to a creche from 6 months (when my mum's maternity leave was over), and then from age 3 to kindergarten. Both of them equipped with fantastic playgrounds, and there, too, we would have at least a couple of hours a day playing outside, weather permitting.
When we moved to the Baltic Sea, the new sprawling estate there had several playgrounds to make sure children didn't have to go too far from home to play. Again, we were out pretty much every day. Apart from that, I had ballet classes and gymnastics training to keep me moving by then.
Change of scene: In 1993 I lived in Lyham Road right behind Brixton prison, renting a room from an elderly lady whose son and daughter-in-law with their two little boys lived just next door. The boys were out playing a lot, too, but only in the narrow and bare strip of a garden behind their council house, and only with each other. On his first day in school, the older boy was taken home after one hour because he was crying the whole time. Suddenly he was surrounded by several children his own age and not his little brother, and he couldn't cope!
The nearest playground in that street was probably a kilometer and definitely at least one very busy road away. Not a way I would like my children to take routinely just to get to play. I like the playgrounds in London's parks, but the nearest one to where I currently live is a 15 minute walk away. Again, although there is less traffic here, it is not a distance I'd be comfortable letting under 10-year-olds walk by themselves. So a parent always has to go along, and has to have the time to, instead of being able to shout down from the window that it's dinner time.
It is a great shame that there are so few playgrounds around in the UK, and it's a great shame that there are so many reasons to fear for your children's safety when they are out and about by themselves. And now we see it doesn't just affect children's social skills, it makes them physically weaker, too.