Fisherland May 7, 2014

Oh, it feels good to be on the cutting edge.

The other day, I read about a new sort of free-form playground in Wales, where kids apparently play with garbage and light fires, with adult approval. It’s meant to correct modern parents’ tendencies to shelter their children from every possible bump, bruise, and tumble, and to teach them to assess risk on their own.  It’s called “The Land.” According to an article in The Atlantic:

The ground is muddy in spots and, at one end, slopes down steeply to a creek where a big, faded plastic boat that most people would have thrown away is wedged into the bank. The center of the playground is dominated by a high pile of tires that is growing ever smaller as a redheaded girl and her friend roll them down the hill and into the creek …

It’s still morning, but someone has already started a fire in the tin drum in the corner, perhaps because it’s late fall and wet-cold, or more likely because the kids here love to start fires. Three boys lounge in the only unbroken chairs around it; they are the oldest ones here, so no one complains … Nearby, a couple of boys are doing mad flips on a stack of filthy mattresses, which makes a fine trampoline. At the other end of the playground, a dozen or so of the younger kids dart in and out of large structures made up of wooden pallets stacked on top of one another.

Here’s a picture of The Land:


PIC The Land

Despite not being in Europe, we’ve been experimenting with something similar on our property. At the risk of appearing pretentious, we refer to it as “The Yard.” Here’s a recent photo, featuring one of my courageous and confident children:


I don’t tend to hover over her, suppressing her natural inquisitiveness, because I’m afraid she will stab me.

Speaking of cutting edge: seriously, give that kid some space. She will cut you.

The Yard isn’t the only area place where we allow children to naturally innoculate themselves against adult phobias. Most modern bathrooms. monitored by paranoid, over-anxious helicopter parents, are unnaturally sterile and barren places, where cleaning happens daily and natural playthings such as toilet paper, wet toilet paper, and turds, are discarded, rather than cherished as the instruments of adventure. But our bathroom — “The Crapper,” we’ve dubbed it — was shaped by the children who attend it. Which is why I hold it in all day and use the gas station bathroom whenever I can.

One popular feature in The Crapper is a set of three broad planes (some refer to them as “walls,” but we think of them as “canvases”) where children can express their creativity in tactile and olfactory ways. The commercial colors of the toy aisle are banished in favor of the time-honored palate of yellow and brown.  In The Crapper, our children also learn about physics:  will the toilet flush when there is a copy of This Rock in the bowl? How about all the copies of This Rock? How about your little sister? Yes, here is a place of learning.

We also have an area called The Boys’ Room. I don’t want to talk about that, though.


The only drawback is that we are having a hard time keeping the professionally trained playworkers around. They show up all bright-eyed with their gum boots and their sweaters with wooden toggles on them, ready to let children be children; but within hours, they’re nowhere to be found, leaving only a small pool of blood behind them. I ask the kids what happened, and they say they didn’t know. One kid did hear a hoarse cry that sounded like “such a thing as bad kids after all,” but other than that, it’s a mystery.

Overall, we are pleased with the results. Our children show no sign of being hobbled by phobias about hygiene or safety. On nights when Daddy works late, they are hardly even appear human.  And we have our philosophy of unstructured play and child-led inquisitiveness to thank. I can only hope that other American parents will follow our lead. Or at very least, drop some of those lawsuits.

"Can The Jerk have this space now that you're done with it? I mean, it's ..."

I’m moving!
"Wonderful Ideas for newborn baby and their parents also, its good to give them handmade ..."

Welcome, baby! 12 gifts that new ..."

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Kate Cousino

    I honestly LOVE the idea of The Land, probably because it is reminiscent of the corner of my parent’s farm where the old farm machinery and junk went to die, where we children played quite happily making forts out of various semi-dangerous materials, a little ways away from The Swamp, which was a great place to play “find the weak ice” in the early spring.

    There’s a little bit of scrub out on the edge of the housing development we live in now that is also host to all sorts of children’s forts–and feuds, as various factions steal prime building materials from each other.

    If it takes having trained play facilitators hanging around to get other parents to let their kids have that sort of childhood experience…well, it’s a start. 🙂

  • dkpak

    LOL! Love the boys’ room particularly. Looks exactly like ours, down to dirty little feet sticking out of odd places.

  • anna lisa

    I once lived in a suburb of L.A. that was about 90% wealthy Asians. Children were not allowed to walk to or from school. If women ventured onto the sidewalks they wore visors over their faces to keep their skin white. At about 3:45 every day, the notes of hundreds of musical instruments could be heard drifting forth into the vacant streets through the walls of homes with perfectly manicured front lawns and gardens.

    From time to time I would spy the neighbor children peering through a small hole in the shrubbery with looks of shock and fascination on their faces. My kids would blast them with super soakers if they caught them. The little boy once shouted back indignantly, and with an accusatory tone: “WHY are you NAKED?!” It was 105 degrees outside. The boys were wearing bathing suits while having a water war on the trampoline. Guys without tshirts are considered highly improper.

    When we first moved there, I could hear the most amazing music coming from the school. I asked the front office which visiting orchestra they’d had for a school assembly. They laughed and told me that it was just their seventh and eighth graders.

    My observation is that they most certainly have the discipline to take over UCLA– but would be hard pressed to match the ingenuity to take over the world, like a boy raised with wolves in the frozen tundra and steaming jungle of the Fisher household.

    • anna lisa

      *or girl*

    • Anna Lisa: Ha. I used to teach in that same suburb, and my husband still works there as a counselor. We live just a couple miles away now, but in a very different type of town.

      Simcha: “Speaking of cutting edge…” HIlarious. Seriously funny.

      I like the *idea* of The Land, but I don’t get why it has to have a bunch of garbage? Can’t kids just play with sticks and rocks? I know that any trash in my yard is unintentional (and I don’t worry much about it), but it sounds like someone put it in The Land on purpose. There were probably few places in The Precious Past where garbage was intentionally laid out for children’s use…

      • anna lisa

        Hi Micaela, small world. 🙂 Living in San Marino was an education for all of us. Despite the stellar test scores the schools seemed under funded and the new teachers had this fear about them like they could get axed. The older teachers seemed like they were letting Kumon and Tiger mothers do their work for them. My middle schooler was shocked to see how much the kids would talk in Mandarin to each other and use their cell phones during tests. But what went to his HEAD was his first day at school. He looked a lot like Justin Bieber. Word went around fast, and before he even left the office a huge throng of giggling girls came into the office and hovered outside–so funny and strange! That week he had about 100 friend requests on Facebook. My daughter liked San Marino H.S. The kids really welcomed her in, and she did well. They had a nice Young Life group. What was new to her was that some of the kids were doing hard core street drugs at school. The parents put a ton of pressure on them.
        On the brighter side of things, I met some really nice Catholic Moms in the greater Pasadena area. Some of them have kids at St. Monica and go to the house of Opus Dei in San Gabriel. Despite all of my likes and dislikes about living there, I was really pleasantly surprised to see how alive and well the Faith is there…

        • Well, I was only geographically off by one city. My husband works in Arcadia. 🙂 Same culture, I think. I have met some great Catholic moms here too. We homeschool and our group is loosely affiliated with St. Monica’s. Very nice group of moms and kids.

          • anna lisa

            Yeah, that’s what I miss. People think it’s a big deal to live in Santa Barbara but it’s not conducive for Catholic families to live here…

  • richard

    This is good. It prepares children for their adult years to live in a not-so-tidy-and-nice world.

  • “I don’t tend to hover over her, suppressing her natural inquisitiveness, because I’m afraid she will stab me.”

    Smart mom! Hope the rest of the fishers are as smart.

  • Sheila C.

    Yep, that’s our family’s style all right. I only have two kids, but since my first was a baby people have been telling me I “seem like a mom of many” because I didn’t even care when the baby eats off the floor or licks the dog’s dish. I think a certain carelessness (or at least apparent carelessness) is the only way to let your kids TRY stuff. And if you never let them try, they’ll never know how!

  • MightyMighty1

    Dying laughing. Thanks for the pick-me-up!