As residents of modern cities, we have become obsessed with speed and productivity. Many of us have been afflicted by what has been labelled the ‘hurry virus’ – the culture of speed that dominates modern lives and cities, causing us to constantly strive to ‘go faster’. When afflicted by this hurry virus, we try to do everything more quickly to ‘save time’ and get more things done. Yet, the faster we try to go, the less time we have and the less effective and more stressed we become.
Unfortunately, this hurry virus is now affecting children. And when hurrying becomes a habit, and we constantly tell our children to ‘hurry up’, children’s play is disrupted, and everyone suffers.
Why are parents so focused on ‘hurrying’ their children? Parents compete with other parents to provide their children with a competitive edge in a consumerist world, where measures of success are based on material wealth and possessions. Many parents (and educators) mistakenly assume that formal schooling and extra-curricular activities are the best way to give their children such an advantage. Consequently, children are rushed to adult-organised activities such as tutoring, music classes and sport. This means that there is less time for play in children’s lives, and this is taking a toll on children. Constantly urging children to rush and to learn new skills (through formal means) means that children are missing out on the enormous benefits of play.
A focus on childhood and play can provide adults with a stimulus to reflect on our obsession with speed and productivity. Simply by observing children at play, we can re-discover the joys of childhood that involve living in the present and enjoying life in the moment. Children at play are not afflicted by the hurry virus. They are not constantly thinking about rushing or hurrying to finish what they’re doing so they can get to the next important task (as adults often do). As adults, we can learn about the joys of play and apply this to our own lives, simply by slowing down.
One way to encourage society to slow down is to encourage a shift to the slower modes of travel – particularly walking and cycling. Importantly, these are also the child-friendly modes, as they allow children to playfully explore their neighbourhoods, getting to know the places they live in and the people in their community.
In many cities, COVID-19 lockdowns provided the conditions to promote the playful use of local streets, creating neighbourhoods with less traffic and with more people of all ages walking and cycling. Outdoor play in local streets significantly increased, even in suburbs where this was rare before COVID-19. Children decorated sidewalks with chalk, and local residents placed teddy bears and rainbow images in windows and gardens, providing children with enjoyable and socially distant treasure hunts.
An effective way to maintain the conditions for children to play in their local community is the creation of ‘play streets’. These are hugely beneficial for children and the wider community. They show adults how our lives can be improved in neighbourhoods that are less car-dominated.