Tracing my roots back to my home town of the Gold Coast, I often feel a sense of sadness at the loss of natural wild space as it is rapidly replaced by new housing, retail development and high rises. Some wild spaces still exist and my family now spend the vast majority of our time living slowly and deliberately in the sand, amongst the rocks, exploring the tide pools and meandering in the national park. But mostly we spend our time heads down-bums up combing a little section on the headland littered with millions of shells.
It is a pretty special spot, one of the few places where I feel I can escape the modern rush of the glitter strip. My girls could spend an entire day exploring the rocks. Sea urchin spines are one of our favourite ocean treasures. I have vivid memories of combing this exact spot as a child where one day I found the most beautiful pink spiral shell, no bigger than the nail on my pinky. Today those shells still abound and I will often fill a container with these tiny ocean gifts.
On this particular day, the point was alive with people. This is pretty standard, it is my pick so it comes as no surprise that a lot of other people share my love of this spot. But there was something so different about the vibrations of the day. I noticed the children. At a glance, there were four groups of children, immersed in play. This stopped me in my tracks. There is something so incredibly entrancing about children living and playing in nature… rewildling their childhood. I approached each group and asked if it was ok to take pictures of their creations. I was slightly surprised at the pride and enthusiasm they showed in their response.
I noticed a father and his young toddler son, building a small castle out of sticks. There were some tweens constructing a drift wood fort and some teens purposefully placing large pieces of wood into warped positions creating a sculpture. Seeing these kids of different ages all engaged in various forms of play filled me with a resounding sense of joy and another feeling, a satisfying feeling of confirmation of what I already knew… PLAY MATTERS!!!
We all know kids play, but I think that it is so important to recognise that it is an absolutely essential, VITAL part of our human development. Not just a bonus, no, it is a fundamental right. Today’s Western society undervalues play across all age groups (including us as adults!) Yet play is how all animals learn; whether it is a lion, a dolphin or an otter! Learning by doing, by emulating, watching, mimicking. Children do this every day, all day from the time they are born. Play can be used in ways that many people don’t even realise. Role playing is a brilliant way to talk about fears and worries, to practise social skills and to revisit events that may have been confusing or even traumatic. It is a way for children to discover their limits and to take risks, to practise being powerful, to be the leader, to work as a part of a team, to make bonds and strengthen relationships. To reconnect, especially when children are displaying behaviours that cry for attention.
And so I relished the moment to watch these children, utterly immersed in the moment, making childhood memories and strengthening their self-esteem and relationships. I feel so incredibly grateful to be part of a movement advocating play for all children and rewilding childhood. And most of all, I was happy in the knowledge that despite the rush of the developing world, that families are, and will continue to, seek out wild spaces to play in and form life-long memories.