I've spent the remainder of the first week on my travels down to Rome and I actually have found just observing people in social areas in different cities and countries quite insightful. It has made me think about how I can draw ideas from other cultures and ways of life to reflect on attitudes to play. Play is an important part of human nature, however approaches to play vary significantly around the world. Geographical location can have an impact in terms of weather, available outdoor spaces and the feeling of safety. Economical impacts of a country and the individuals who have children also play a factor.
Observations of Basel
The highlight of the trip in terms of my project was seen in Basel. I found it interesting that in terms of social interaction, there was a lack of people absorbed in their own devices comparatively to what I experience in the UK (and am also guilty of). More people were being active with activities such as running (jealous because I currently can still only fit my ankle in flip flops and a hobble is the best I can manage), swimming, cycling, rollerblading, children playing in playgrounds (lots of them) still until 9/10pm at night. I think the most fascinating observation though was the interaction with the river Rhine (Rhein) and in particular the popularity of the "Wickelfisch". The Wickelfisch is a waterproof bag that literally hundreds of people along the banks of the river Rhine carried with them, so that they could swim in the river and take their belongings with them. It was around 5pm at the time, I had met a fellow traveller on the train and we were relaxing by the river as the weather was incredible and just noticed all these people floating down the river with these bags. When they would come to the river bank and dry off, they were pulling all of their belongings out of the bag, including mobile phones and tablets. I joked perhaps they were on their daily commute and any moment now someone is going to pull a laptop out and start using it.
What can be learned from this observation?
Bad jokes aside, it did make me think about how the city can be used in our day to day lives to promote activity levels. The Wickelfisch as a product makes it possible for the river to become an integrated part of daily life in a city like Basel. By reducing the pain associated with public swimming which is - what to do with my belongings whilst I swim? The Wickelfisch allows you to take them with you. True, in the UK, the weather is less reliable and our river infrastructure and cleanliness isn't as inviting as rivers and lakes in Switzerland (I can't imagine people hopping in the Thames with a Wickelfisch purely to avoid the tube for example), but the idea of producing something which facilitates the ability to be active / to play as part of a daily routine is something that I would be interested to explore.
How can I apply this to my project?
From the desk research I've completed so far I read that kids in the UK spend less time outdoors than prison inmates, which is an average of less than 1 hour per day. And that includes all activity such as getting to and from school, plus their weekends, so perhaps something which encourages engagement with existing infrastructure to maximise the time that is spent outdoors in a more physical way, or enhances the experience of that journey or activity and encourages children to stay outside for longer.
I am back to uni tomorrow so hopefully will have a chance to catch up with Chris and Ewan about my ideas which will help focus my direction. I plan to explore this notion of "way of life" some more, perhaps looking at education systems throughout Europe and the world to see how play is addressed / taught / prioritised. I will also be living at my friends house who has a 4 year old until I find a permanent place to stay in Dundee, so I am going to make use of the opportunity to observe Caitlyn's day to day life and how she plays. I also intend to interview my friend, Caitlyn's mum, Cherlea and take a trip to the museum of Childhood in Edinburgh to really get my mindset thinking back to childhood.
I have a few questions in my mind that I want to explore:
What does play mean to a child?
Why do children play outside less?
What impact does this inactivity have on children?
What are parents attitudes towards their child's screen use?
What are children's attitudes towards their own screen use?
Why are video games so popular?