This fascinating dissertation from well known researcher Roger Hart is almost 40 years old but is as relevant now as ever. It is a beautiful depiction of life not that long ago which seems worlds away from the indoor, screen dominated, car-oriented lives of children today.

Hart spent two years in a small New England town, following and mapping children’s movement and perception of their landscape as they built cubbies, fished at the river, explored, biked and roamed. He became part of the neighbourhood as these children shared their most treasured and tucked away play areas, far from watchful parents. Footage taken of the children at play during this time can still be found on the internet. Thirty years later, Hart returned to the town where some of the children still lived, now grown up with children of their own. He found that despite their rather free-range upbringing, these parents would not dream of letting their children play unsupervised that far from home.

Hart makes some beautiful observations.

– “Small patches of dirt throughout the town are the most intensively used of all children’s places.”

– Children like to find small places, as “places of retreat, to look out upon the world from a place of one’s own, as places for experimenting with how to put things together… In each of these activities a child is probably exploring his or her relationship with the environment, both social and physical.”

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