I was idly reading the Times website the other day (trying to ignore the chaos going on behind me) and came across a book review for a book called The Idle Parent by Tom Hodgkinson. I haven't actually managed to get my hands on a copy to actually read the book yet, a copy is awaiting my return to the UK, but the review struck a chord.
Essentially, he is advocating allowing children to have more time and space to themselves to create their own play. He thinks that many parents spend too much time standing over their children in adult organised activities, ensuring that things are done just so, and that many of these activities are too educationally orientated. I was reminded of a conversation I had last year with another member of the Mothers Union as we watched other mothers being very engaged with their children in the playground whilst we gossiped and our children were last seen investigating bugs in the hedge. We confidently agreed that we had made a decision to parent our children in this way, to allow them space to explore and create for themselves, but then we secretly whispered to each other that maybe it wasn't so much a conscious decision but shhh .. maybe... just maybe.. we might actually just be a bit lazy.
Fast forward a year and I find myself in a culture where this type of parenting is the norm. The Bosnian kids are afforded a remarkable amount of freedom in comparison to British ones. They play outside, the boys on bikes and with footballs, the girls walking around arm in arm whispering and giggling. All ages mix together, they all know each other and they are, on the whole, beautifully behaved. Exuberant sometimes, loud often, they engage with each other, taking the resonsibility to look out for the younger ones and without fail respect the adults. It seems to me that this mixing of ages and backgrounds leads to a real development of a social awareness that can be lacking in British children who seldom have the opportunity to engage with youngsters outside of their own age range.
So, now that spring is arriving (at least the days are getting longer even if there is still snow on the ground), I'm looking forward to watching the Bosnian children enjoying themselves. I'm not sure that I am quite prepared to let my two head off on their own, they are only 2 and 3 after all, but I am looking forward to possibly reading a book on the porch whilst they create havoc in the garden and not feeling guilty that I ought to be organising something.