Nature's Playthings

Alan Sutton
Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Nature's Playthings, Alison Wilson Smith, Merlin Unwin Books. ISBN 9781906122003, 16.99, 176 pages

London Play has often argued that for many children that have lost the freedom to roam and play it will take a generation to get it back.

This book is a timely reminder from a previous generation (written by a self-confessed ex-tomboy grandmother) of the fun to be had just doing what you want in the natural environment. It will be invaluable for play rangers or outreach play workers in parks, as well as parents and children.

I was once roundly abused by some childcare workers on a training day when I extolled the virtue, purpose and use of play fighting: they said I was out of date. I have an ally here: the author suggests details of how to enjoy playing King of the Castle, scrumping (taking apples from trees), making itching powder, bows and arrows, conker fighting, pea-shooters and things for boys to tangle in girls hair, with not a legal disclaimer or word of caution in sight.

The joys of pointless fun (making a bird's nest), social play (divining future husbands) and being creative with seeds, leaves and stems are all described. There are sections on wild foods, games to play with natural materials and advice on campfires.

The book demonstrates that all you need for years of fun are nature's materials, a penknife, some string or ribbon and a box of matches. The book is not cheap, but the text is clear and simple and the photos inspiring - the leaf boats compare with the best environmental art. I want one for Christmas.



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