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Freedom of Play

Published on 01/05/18

The idea of freedom sparks excitement in our hearts. It brings with it images of long, carefree days and evokes memories of times when choices appear unlimited. If freedom were a colour it would, for me, be the deep blue of the sky above a mountain range; I would be flying down the ski slopes below, with a skill beyond that which I actually possess, at one with the landscape.

I’m lucky. I grew up at the tail end of what might be thought of as the “golden age” of children’s free play. The need for child labour had declined greatly, decades earlier, and adults had not yet begun to take away the freedom that children had gained. Chosen play both at school and home would send shivers through the health and safety conscious society of today; I recall all manner of scrapes, often involving trees … and the first aid kit! As I grew older, a part time paper round gave me a sense of maturity and responsibility, as well as money of my own. The weeks of the summer holiday brought time and the freedom to play. I am sure that the Prep School children will delight in hearing that I place a very high value on play, bringing with it the ability to get along with others, cooperate effectively, judge risks and make wise judgements.

Play and its links with freedom are interesting. On the one hand, children at play are free to make their own rules and manage their time. Play is not compulsory so players are always free to leave the game. However, this inevitably requires that everyone understands that to keep the game going, all the players must be kept happy. Failure to compromise and negotiate, or hurting the feelings of other players, tends to result in the offender being left alone. If social interactions break down, children must control their anger and impulses in order to resolve the situation, if the fun of play is to continue. Thus, time spent at play might be more free of supervision but it is not free of rules, albeit unspoken rules. At Claremont Fan Court we talk about three golden rules of Respect, Responsibility and Reliability, and how observing these fundamental principles helps to promote harmonious play and social relationships.

We believe that children will develop greater emotional resilience and intuitive understanding of human relationships through a wide and varied childhood, including an education that is well-rounded and values play. In our society, we are ‘free’ and we have ‘freedom’ to do what we like, within reason and within the boundaries of the law; as an independent school, we enjoy a broader freedom in the crafting of our curriculum, meaning that we can better offer a diverse and flexible approach to education than our colleagues in the state sector. As human beings, we have ‘free’ will yet we need to help children to understand that freedom is not simply the opportunity to do as we please. We can make clear choices about our lives, our moral stance and what we do. With that freedom, however, comes responsibility. Yes, we are free to make choices, but, if we wish to retain our right to freedom then we must consider the impact that our choices have on others.

The same goes for free speech. In our society, we are privileged to be able to freely express views and challenge authority if needed, to disagree with governments, political parties and hierarchy. However, the right to free speech does not extend to hurting someone’s feelings or destroying their self-esteem; at school, we expect our children to take account of one another’s feelings, consider words wisely and apply freedom of choice with respect for others.

So, whatever moments of joy are synonymous with freedom, it is a part of our character programme that is about much more than the pleasure of a moment. As we prepare our children to become contributors to a mature society, we help them to see that freedom is about the ability to identify the alternative courses of action available, to debate over these and ultimately to rejoice in the opportunity that we have to make choices.

Mrs Helen Hutton-Attenborough
Head of Preparatory School