Readers of this blog know that they can expect perspectives of youth not found elsewhere. I’m really hoping to connect with kindred spirits about topics that can change the lives of kids for the better. Recently, I’ve discovered a book which resonates deeply with my own thoughts and writing about the essential role of agency in youth. The book is Savage Park: A Meditation On Play, Space, and Risk for Americans Who Are Nervous, Distracted, and Afraid To Die, by Amy Fusselman. Much of the book is dedicated to an examination of a Hanegi Playpark in Tokyo, near where Fusselman traveled with her young sons, to visit a friend. In the park she discovered a powerfully different presence of space, as well as the kinds of thinking and activity afforded by this space.
The key is that the playpark had all kinds of materials children could use to invent, imagine, and explore. There was much less emphasis on safety than exploration. Fusselman recognizes that this sort of balance would be altogether unacceptable at home in NYC, but appears to be so much more natural in Japan. There is some great cross-cultural analysis to be done here, but for me the book’s specialness lies in Fusselman’s understanding of how space and the materials of play function in concert to shape a child’s relationship to the world.
Consider this excerpt:
“..in toying with a stick, a kid is toying with the world in which he and the stick are a part, a world which is itself a combination of forces at play in a way that is so sophisticated that we have barely even begun to explain it.”
That is the best insight into the majestic and powerful importance of playing with a stick that I have ever read.That sort of play shapes the mind on so many levels, and in our culture, is quickly overlooked as we glom onto stories of worry. I think we may have forgotten that being a good steward of childhood is as much about freeing young people as it is about protecting them. Deep thanks to Amy Fusselman for being a voice of uncommon sense, and for a book that inspires a more meaningful conversation about youth.