At session today a boy was playing with a hosepipe. The chance to play with water is so important for kids, especially for those who don’t get to see streams or the ocean, but a part of me always feels secretly conflicted. I try to make environmentally conscious choices in my own life, and while I know that play is no ‘waste’ of water, it does feel a bit extravagant.
He was stopping the end of the pipe with his thumb and painting the wall with big wet patches, then washing out watering cans and bottles from the wet play area. He was laughing so hard at his ability to turn a little dribble of water into firefighter-pressure, then wiggling the hose so that the stream of water danced. As he sprayed it again a moment of rare sunshine emerged, and he made his first rainbow.
I was thinking then about a talk I saw David Sobel give at last year’s Spirit of Adventure Play in Cardiff, when he was talking about attachment to nature. He was saying that all the longitudinal research he’d read suggested that, rather than the educational approach we often expect, chances for free play in nature are most likely to result in adults who work in, value or otherwise advocate for environmental causes. Their play might be destructive in the short term, but those chances to experience mastery, experimentation, exploration and joy in nature was more conducive to a genuine and profound love for the outdoors than a structured approach of ‘appreciation’. It seemed then that ‘extravagance’ is a brilliant thing to find in play, that the expansive joy that child experienced in playing with clean water might lead him to understand the value of clean water in the future, to intimately know that is in danger of being lost.
While I was thinking all this, he snuck up behind me and put the hosepipe straight into my ear.