The Realities of 21st Century Street Play: Losing your Children


I’m not sure if it’s the large collection of second-hand Little Tikes cars in our garden, or the wooden playhouse in the corner, or the general loveliness of my children (ahem), but most days we end up with other peoples’ children in our garden.

In fact, the main reason this happens is because we have a back gate. A back gate that opens out onto a shared grassy area with our neighbours, which then opens out onto a very quiet road. Down the other end of that very quiet road is another patch of grass, which neighbours also share, and whose back gates are also usually open. The other common denominator in the equation, aside from the grass patches, is small children.

So we often end up with other people’s children in our back garden. They sometimes venture into the house if I’m in a good mood. As ‘young’ as four, their parents can’t really see where they’ve gone. They trust that they won’t have gone far of course. But they never know for sure. The aforementioned quiet road is also lined with five storey blocks of flats, all with external walkways facing the road. Children from these flats also come out. Again, their parents can’t really see where they’re going. They trust that they won’t go too far of course. But they never know for sure.

So what do they do when it’s the inevitable dinner time? How do they know where they are? There are a couple of options.

  1. Look for the bike: if the child arrived on a bike, it’s most likely that the said vehicle is laying strewn half across the pavement and the road outside the garden or house that they are in. So a quick scan for these will often give an indication of the child’s location.
  2. Send a sibling: if the child has an older sibling, send them to locate the bike and hopefully the child too
  3. If there is no sibling or no bike, yell. Yell as loud as you can and hope that they hear (and want to listen).

Of course, these tactics are potentially quite different to ‘the good old days’ where children were allowed to roam until dark, and would use their natural instinct (or maybe a watch?) of an indication of when to come in. They would be too far away to hear their parent’s yells, and their bike would certainly be out of sight. But we are talking mostly under 6s here, and it is 2018, so I’m not too ashamed.

Looking for bikes and yelling seem like good first steps in giving children a greater sense of autonomy and independence at least.