†The last child on the street ‘is the name of the symposium that will take place on Thursday 9 June in Theater de Krakeling. This event in Westerparken is a cry for help from various sectors to draw attention to the importance of playing outside† the number of children playing seems to have dropped significantly in recent years† The driving force behind this symposium is Martin Hup, director of the nature playground Het Woeste Westen. He saw the playground’s 12th anniversary as a good reason to host this event.
by Tessa van der Meij
Fifteen years ago, Martin Hup stumbled upon the field in Westerparken by accident. “Back then, it was already a bit of a nature playground, if it were not for the fact that everything had broken down. But the intentions were good, and it had a real potential. “That he saw the potential was partly due to his experience with nature and environmental education. He decided to take action and wrote to the municipality that this field would be a good nature playground. The municipality took his idea up, and three years later he stood as director at the opening of the present Woeste Westen on Overbrakerpad.
“It actually went really well afterwards,” says Martin. “There was a lot of praise that was passed on from mouth to mouth. Then I heard parents here call, ‘You have to come here now, you do not know what you are going through!’ Kids go really wild here, and so do the parents. When playing with your child as a parent, you quickly tend to draw your own line if it takes too long or there is no logic in it. But if you let children play – children without the adults’ watchful eye – then it is of a completely different order. “
‘Playing in danger’
According to Martin, children automatically seek out challenges. “Today it is called ‘play in danger’. It is in children. To take up challenges, look for risks, climb a place that is not meant to be, and then be sent away again by the parents. Here too you hear much: ‘Beware, beware, do not be with it.’ “I think it used to be a lot smaller. Parents let their children walk less and less, treat them more carefully and protect them more and more.”
day in their lives
The site is freely accessible so that as many children as possible can play. Schools regularly ask Martin for a full-fledged program for a school trip. He often comes up with ‘a better plan’. “Just let them play! And then we bake a sandwich for half an hour at noon as the only activity. I promise those kids will have the time of their lives. Believe me: it never went wrong. Those kids are busy all day. These parents and teachers then look at them as ‘what’s going on here? what is this? That boy is always bullying everyone and he now helps someone and the other never dares anything and he is now standing on a raft in the water!’ †
He emphasizes once again that the Woeste Westen ‘enjoys playing outside’ and ‘playing in nature’. “And it gives children even more opportunities and challenges than on the street or on a regular playground. Playgrounds are often boring for those parents think it is too dangerous on the street and there is not much to do anymore. In addition, the telephone and computer games also entice children to stay indoors. ”
Important for development
According to him, children and play belong together. In addition, free play is ‘extremely important for their development’. That is also why he thinks it is so unfortunate that fewer and fewer children seem to be playing on the street. Research by Jantje Beton shows that 15% of children never play outside again. In big cities, it’s even 30 percent. A Belgian study showed that between 1983 and 2008 there were 50% fewer children on the streets in some neighborhoods than in previous years and 37% fewer children in the following eleven years. “If this trend continues, we will have almost no children playing on the streets in twenty years.”
Still, kids still like coming to Het Woeste Westen. “I sometimes call it a play reserve for the last free-playing children. Parents think it’s still safe enough here, and children can get lost here. ” Martin hopes to create more awareness with the symposium ‘The last child on the street’. “Some people think the name sounds a bit dramatic, but it’s a cry for help. Of course, I can not change the world on my own, but I want to contribute to it. ” A few tickets are still available through this site.