THE MAGIC OF CHILDREN'S PLAY!

CHILDHOOD MEMORIES OF THE GREAT OUTDOORS.

Here in Melbourne, Australia, the whirlwind that is the Christmas and New Year season, has finally come to a close.  For Australian teachers, January represents our much awaited summer holiday session.  A time to relax, restore our energy levels and ponder upon our new years adventures with a brand new posse of little friends and co-learners for 2012.

To help us along with the ‘relaxing’ process, we are generally inundated with gifts from our very generous families at the end of each year, and 2011 was no exception.  As is usually the case, this years bounty included some lovely pampering potions and creams that the girly side of me just loves to indulge in!  Who has time for a relaxing bubble bath during the working year, right?

One of our lovely parents gave me two bottles of shower gel, ‘Plum’ and ‘Pineapple’.  And one morning, as I put them to good use, I was drawn to reading the print upon the labels:

“Memory #12:  Remember when you first discovered that pineapples don’t just come tinned and sliced in pieces?  It was high summer, pineapples were in season and the green grocer had just received a delivery. Mum put it on the table, got out the big knife and sliced you the biggest, juiciest, freshest slice you have ever tasted. Bliss! Sweet, juicy, delicious!  Now to attack your brother with the left over pointy end!”

“Memory #23:  I think I have found the perfect one. Round, deeply coloured, slightly squishy.  Ready, aim, FIRE! It releases in slow motion as it arches out of the home-made sling-shot and hits smack in the centre, SPLAT! I can smell the ripe succulent juices from here behind the bush. BULLS EYE! Now, turn and run before you get caught.”

Thank you Stacey, your gifts certainly hit the mark!  BULLS EYE!

Immediately, my thoughts returned to one of my favourite quotes:

“There is a garden in every childhood, an enchanted place where colours are brighter, the air softer, and the morning more fragrant than ever again.”

 ~ Elizabeth Lawrence

How often as adults, when confronted with a familiar sensory input, whether it be taste, touch, sight, feel or sound, are we carried back to a fond childhood memory, possibly your first ever encounter with that particular sensory input. Without doubt, our first experiences are profound, indelible and securely etched within the deep recesses of our brain, ready to be triggered by subsequent encounters. How could these current experiences ever be ‘more fragrant’ than those captured in our childhood memories?

Having not long read Richard Louv’s “Last Child in the Woods: Saving our children from NATURE-DEFICIT DISORDER”,  and recently connecting with some lovely childhood friends (thank you FB), the messages printed on these bottles of goodness really resonated with me. At that point, in the shower, I knew that this post had to happen! As we all know, our best thinking, and singing for that matter, always happens whilst in the shower!  I think it must be due to the wonderful regenerative powers of water!

So, here we are, childhood friends of old. Well, perhaps not that old!  Today, from left to right; me, Karen and Leonie.  And back then, left to right; me, Leonie and Karen.

Leonie and I, Christmas 1967.

Of course I had no less than 4 Karen’s in my class through primary school, which had a lot to do with that cute, youngest member of the Mickey Mouse Club, who was also called Karen! Sad to say, but I can still sing the theme song from that show!

We had a rich and blest childhood really, but certainly not in the material sense that some parents are misguided into to believing is necessary today. The media and advertisers were nowhere to be seen back then, unable to employ their ‘guilt’ tactics to brainwash unsuspecting parents as to what good parenting was/is (the underlying truth of their message being to line the pockets of multi-national toy companies). We grew up in a suburb of Melbourne, called Ashburton, but on the poorer ‘housing commission’ side of High Street. We had our share of rough and tumble families living in amongst the poky little houses that lined the streets, but mostly, it was a warm and friendly neighbourhood.

My parents married very young (18 and 22). Dad headed off to join the navy at about 17, and did not settle into completing his tertiary studies in engineering until he was in his 20’s. As was the tradition in those day’s, our Mum was a stay at home Mum. Everyday she cared for 4 young children and tackled a mountain of household duties (as well as hand-making all of our clothes!) without the luxury appliances that assist us today. But Mum was a hard worker and very proud of her home. As Leonie recently reminded me, it was always immaculate.  So, during my childhood, the six of us lived in a very small, two bedroom housing commission home, with available floor space amounting to little more than the surface of a postage stamp. With space at a premium, it was inevitable for us, that all play would take place outside. The house was viewed by us (and Mum!) as somewhere that we returned to at intermittent punctuation’s throughout the day to eat, bathe and sleep. We were often lured to the back door by the lovely cooking aromas that wafted across the verandah, down the stairs and into our back garden, where they would dance around our noses tantalising our nostrils. Eventually, no matter how engaging the play may have been, our tummies would grumble and the aromas could no longer be ignored! Mum would throw open the wire screen door and call us in with, ‘Tea Time!’, that is of course, if our legs had not already set themselves in motion.

MEMORIES OF A LIFE OUTDOORS:

Here is just a sprinkling of some of my childhood memories.

  • THE CHOOK YARD:  At the very end of our backyard was an area designated as ‘the chook yard’. The reason why this particular patch of ground was so named remained a mystery to me throughout my childhood, for as far back as I could remember, not a hen nor rooster had ever been sighted within its confines.  But for us, it was an amazing and magical hidden oasis. A place where we could create whatever came into our imaginations. We built cubby houses from wooden packing crates and tea chests, and modeled our own mud-pie kitchens. We dug holes, built mountains and created tracks for cars and trucks. Occasionally, Dad would decide to do a big rubbish burn-off and the chook yard would be set aglow with an enormous bon-fire! Clearly not a recommended practice today. It was here that Leonie and I decided that the stamen of the Calla Lily must have been the source of a well-known Australian treat known as ‘Twisties’. But of course  as soon as we bit into its bright yellow mass, our taste buds immediately informed us of our gross misunderstanding. Only a quick trip to our neighbour Mrs O’Meara’s kitchen for one of her yummy ‘cream puffs’  could restore our mouths to some semblance of normality.
  • FLOWER LEMONADE:  A weekly event through summertime in our neighbourhood was the delivery of orders from the ”Loy’s lemonade’ truck. The ‘Loy’s man’ would place colourful bottles of lemonade in wooden crates on our front verandah which we would cheerfully empty for him over the course of the week. We would then return the clinking empty bottles and crates to the verandah for the following weeks change over. But on one occasion, Leonie and I seized upon the idea of making our own lemonade with the aid of the empty bottles and copious amounts of flowers from Mum’s garden. We collected a variety of flowers of different hues and mashed their petals into a paste. Then we added water and poured the liquids into the awaiting bottles. In this instance, we had become a little more discerning and refrained from consuming the contents of the bottles, but we did agree that the colours were spectacular and Mum was enormously pleased with our efforts!
  • STORY TELLING: My brother and I found that our best story telling was accomplished perched up high on top of our garage roof. From this vantage point, we could see the landscape of suburban Melbourne out-stretched before our eyes. To ascend to this lofty height required the careful negotiation of a fence climb to the roof of the garden shed, then the application of the ‘jump-cling-hoist’, manoeuvre to secure a well-earned roof top position. Here we could sit for what seemed like an eternity creating implausible anecdotes regarding the events taking place in the world around us. On one such occasion, as the day was drawing to a close and the street lights began to dot the landscape, we launched into a story about the ‘baddies’ who lived at a location distinguished only by a particularly bright shining light. Leonie and Lisa were with us on this occasion, and when we were called in for dinner these two sufficiently terrified children were unable to set foot off our back verandah for fear of the baddies. We were admonished by our mother for our particularly ‘good’ story telling and my older sisters were subsequently enlisted to escort the wide-eyed, shaken children to their respective homes. Unfortunately not long after this incident, our garage story telling came to an abrupt end when my brothers friend Gary, completed a Tarzan style jump from the top of the garage down onto the shed roof, and failed to stop at the desired point of contact.  He rather awkwardly continued to fall straight through making firm contact with the shed floor below. A gaping wound was created in the roof of that rustic little building on that day, for which we rather unconvincingly assured our parents that we had no knowledge of the events surrounding its demise.
  • BILLIE CARTS: Another use we found for the wooden packing crates that came our way was the construction of state of the art Billie Carts. The street on which we lived had a gradient significant enough to produce reckless, break-neck speeds from one corner of the block to the next. And pity anyone who chose to amble along the footpath when our Billie Carts were in action! Breaks were not an optional extra on our extraordinarily fine machines! When approaching the end of the journey, preparation for the quick right hand turn was of paramount importance. Fear WAS the enemy. Unfortunately, there were ample occasions when slight hesitation resulted in this particular action being performed less elegantly than desired so that the Billie Cart successfully negotiated the turn minus its passenger. Inertia guaranteed this poor child a brutal slide across concrete and bitumen. Trousers with holes in them were sent to the sewing basket and injured body parts were dabbed with red mercurochrome at the back door step before the patient was sent away with the less than encouraging sentiment of, ‘go on then, you’ll be right, off you go!’
  • ADVENTURES AT MY GRANDPARENTS HOUSE: Trips to my grandparents house in Aspendale were always an excursion met with great anticipation and excitement.  All sorts of fun could be had in their garden and my cousins, Tracey and Rikki, lived just around the corner. Three girls, with a mere two years separating us in age, engaged in the most wonderful imaginative play together. Our favourite location was at the far end of the back garden where three large willow trees reached skyward creating a lime green canopy above our heads. We each had lay claim to our own special tree that with great agility we would scale to find our self designated comfortable nook to nestle down within. Our voices would drift on the breeze carrying our thoughts through the gently swaying leafy tendrils that floated like curtains between us.  Every now and then we would catch a glimpse of each other, but mostly it was just us and our tree, responding to whispers on the wind. By way of contrast, the front garden was always impeccably manicured with an explosive and colourful display of annuals meticulously cared for by my grandfather. When he wasn’t watching, we secretively loved to pop the snap-dragons! A fish pond adorned the middle of the garden and provided a home for several large goldfish. Upon our constant nagging, our grandmother would ultimately relent and give each one of us an arrowroot biscuit to feed the fish. We would sit together on the grass surrounding the pond and careful pinch our biscuits into tiny crumbs and scatter them bit by bit on the surface of the water. To our delight, the fish would tentatively appear from the depths and nibble away at the crumbs we provided. On one particular occasion I was able to get to know the fish a little more intimately than they may well have appreciated. On a beautiful spring day, we were all playing in the front garden as our grandparents and parents sat chatting on the verandah.  My grandfathers front lawn was a type of grass that had a particularly spongy, springy texture to it, and lent itself  just perfectly to a game of roly-poly! Unfortunately, too much giggly roly-poly resulted in me becoming a little dizzy and disoriented and rolling myself straight into the murky waters with my fishy friends. Startled by what he had witnessed, my grandfather immediately exclaimed to my father that his youngest daughter had just disappeared into the fish pond! My father casually trained his gaze toward the pond and reassured my grandfather that there was no need for concern, all would be okay, as I was in fact, a mighty fine swimmer!   And of course he was right. I emerged from the pond unscathed, but sadly the lovely white frock that my mother had dressed me in (what was she thinking?) had turned a lovely shade of green due to the combine assault from grass stains and pond slime.  I spent the rest of the day attempting to keep up with the antics of my cousins in an over-sized cardigan borrowed from my grandmothers wardrobe.

 ‘THE fish pond!’

  •  MACK AND JACK: It was Christmas 1967 that Santa delivered the most wonderful scooters imaginable to my brother and I. My brother’s was a flashy fire engine red machine and mine was cool blue with bright yellow wheels. A significant difference in colour, that inspired the game known only to my brother and I as, ‘Mack and Jack”.  It was a serious game, as we were very important defenders of the community.  Mack, my brother, on his red scooter was a fireman, and Jack, me on my blue and yellow scooter, took on the role of local police officer. Mack’s fire station was located in the front yard at the letterbox, and Jack’s police station was in the back yard near the garden tap, sometimes barely visible between the Hydrangea’s and Fuchsia’s. Mack and Jack would rendezvous equal distance from their respective stations, determine their plan of action, and set off purposefully to uphold the law and protect members of the community from impending danger.
‘Jack!’
I could continue on with many, many more wonderful memories about dressing up, feasting on the spoils of  our plum-tree and apricot tree until our tummies ached, creating neighbourhood performances, tadpole adventures down at Gardiner’s Creek and brave explorations along an abandoned railway line.  These childhood memories will live with me forever. For all of us, they are precious reminders of a simpler time when we could take flight and dream, imagine and envision worlds of our own making.
‘Me, Mum and cousin Tiffany’
‘My brother Mick, and me’.
To place ourselves in the shoes of the young children within our care, it is important for us to reconnect with our own childhood experiences.  We need to unlock the door to our ‘child’s mind’ and view the world again through the ‘eye’s of the child within us’.  
As I head back to preschool at the end of January, I have a clear vision as to what I wish to provide for our children. Last year the staff, parents and children started on a journey aimed at returning natural elements to our children’s playground and the journey shall continue in 2012. It is hoped that we can create an environment that engages children’s natural sense of curiosity and wonder within the great outdoors. A place that begs to be negotiated and explored. A place where children are recognized as capable of taking charge of their own learning and are given the freedom to create their own ‘Childhood Memories’.
Please feel free to leave a comment regarding some of your favourite childhood memories.  I would love to hear from you.
:)
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Comments on: "CHILDHOOD MEMORIES OF THE GREAT OUTDOORS." (6)

  1. Love! A must-bookmark!

  2. Truely beautiful! I’ve pinned and will link back to you in my next innerchild posts.
    Angelique

  3. Hi KAren, I have just caught up with your posts over summer – I very much appreciated this one on making memories. That’s what parents do with their children when they read to them (yes! another post that struck a chord) and when they don’t worry about the price of things so much or how new they are (in praise of op shops!) Will continue to read your posts with interest.
    Louise in hot and sunny Ouyen

    • Sorry for the slow response Louise, I have been a little busy! Thank you for your feedback, I really appreciate your positive thoughts and I am glad you enjoy the read! :)

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