Articles about children's play cultures


by Renzo Laporta and Jean-Pierre Rossiecreature of the forest

It is not long ago that the “culture of caution” banned the conkers game from the school play field, restricting youngsters' experiences of play and suffocating their social and physical development. Making daisy chains, playing tag, or football or play with yo-yo, and ride skateboards and bicycles are other samples of banned children's activities. Alongside the increasingly tight control over children's play there is the problem of the local children's cultures in danger of disappearing - gradually washed away from this planet by the mono-cultural view.

Playing conkers is one of the most ancient British seasonal traditional games, dating back to the 16th century, and it is also a very simple and accessible activity – also suitable for children living in a town like London. But during 2000, it received strong negative responses from some educational institutions because of its risk to hurt the players' eyes during the play activity, or because adults fear the horse chestnuts could be used as "offensive weapons"solder of the forest
Wearing goggles was the answer to the problem. Despite the effort to find a balanced approach players became more aggressive during their games. In fact goggles increased the players' sense of safety; so they started to get closer and closer to the target, (giving a meaningless possibility) reducing the risk of being hit to be hit by the horse chestnut, loosing the opportunity to improve their self defence skills.

Is this a good way to learn how to manage the risks?
Adult's fear of danger for their children is one of the reasons which explain why western children's culture (and the play culture is on its components) is quickly disappearing. The increase of adult's presence and influence in children's activity reduces the opportunity for the pupils to make their own culture, and to pass each other elements of this different culture – which are sometimes seen as really disruptive objects for the adults.

With the banning of the use of the horse chestnuts adults are also decreasing the children's chance to explore alternative uses of this natural resource. It is like generating a black hole in the creativity process.creature of the forest
This is what is happening in the micro relationships between generations.

For those who like to offer children a wider range of opportunities to play with conkers the children's cultures have elaborated different ideas.
This is the case of the little dolls made using horse chestnuts and other natural elements, which are collected around the trees, like other seeds, leaves, little tree's sticks and various other items that only children can see as wanders , inspiring their creativity.
With the support of some basic hand tools it becomes easier to design and make little toy creatures for pretending games.
Its just a matter of assembling different horse chestnuts together through the use of the little sticks (barbecue skewers can also be useful for this purpose), finding a balance between elements and gravity. In addition, useful are children's suitable scissors; a nail to make holes; and some drops of liquid glue to guarantee a permanent bond between elements.
When children are too young to use these tools the adult's help can be useful - if it is not seen as a full substitution of the children's attempts to make toys on their own.

If we look at the Moroccan children's culture we can find similar ideas of play activity, using similar natural resource – in Morocco the chestnut tree doesn't grow!

argan toys form Moroccan children play culture
argan toys
In the Anti-Atlas Mountains in south western Morocco grows the argan tree whose seeds are used in producing argan oil well known for its exceptional qualities and the children use it to create toys. Such toys have been made for a long time and are still made today in some villages. So doing Moroccan children can make animals and human figures. With these toys they engage in make-believe play related to rural life.

On the macro relationship offered by the international institutions we have the case of the UNESCO organisation that still fatigues to recognise children's cultures as valuable treasure of the Human Heritages.
Within its plan and programs nothing has been designed to make research, preserve and develop this consistent part of human cultures – despite the fact that children are the majority of the world's population!
What could be the main reason for this blindness? We suppose that UNESCO is still an adult's centred organisation, in which children's view and participation is a missing point amongst their process.
When this generation of grandparents disappears also the chance to collect precious memories about games they played and toys they made with their hands will disappear for ever.
Soon the time will come in which the market will easily take over everything, and the market does not take care about people's education.

When the threats do not come from the human they can come from nature.
The game of conkers could, however, be confined to history in a matter of just ten years because of a disease that kills the tree chestnut, making the seeds the tree produce increasingly rare.

So hands-on conkers to make Forest Creatures and so on!

Conkers hit by legal fears
How to play with conkers
Conkers - a favourite children's game.
Conkers around the world
From Wikipedia
Conkers Cartoons
Marauding moths are causing our cankered conkers to fall out
Conker trees could disappear in a decade as plague kills 40,000 in a year

See the article on London Play magazin - July 2010: image 1 - image 2 - image 3