Where have all the families gone?

I went into town over the school break. I do sometimes emerge from my hermitic rural idyll and brave civilisation. Although I forgot it was the half term and likely to be packed.

That was a huge advantage of home educating. We could go out when the town centres were quiet and have the swimming pool and parks to ourselves. Selfish but useful!

Nowadays, since I’m not so involved with small beings any more I quite like going in the holidays and seeing families enjoying their time together.

I got a bit of a shock; there were hardly any at all. It was empty. Unpopulated. Almost deserted in fact.

Where was everybody? Odd!

I went again a few days later, expecting to be manoeuvring round restless children and fractious mums and dads trying to get jobs done with kids in tow. But it was still the same.

Where are all the children?

I went into Waterstones and spoke to my friend in the children’s book section.

“Is it me or is the town a bit empty?” I asked as she was free to talk – there were few customers.

“It’s dead, quite worrying really,” she agreed.

“I expected the town to be full of families like it normally is during the holidays, where are they all?”

She twiddled her thumbs as if holding a gaming console.

Please tell me it is not the case that they’re all indoors gaming. But she agreed, since the popularity of such easy entertainment has risen the town centres are not nearly so busy in the school holidays as they were. There are certainly not so many little hands in the bookshop.

And our town centres are radically different. With the rise in gaming and online shopping they are emptying, partly because you can shop online and partly because it is much easier to sit a child in front of a game than to take them out, and the price of a new one is the same as a trip somewhere.

I’m not knocking online shopping or gaming, we do both in this house.

But the emptiness of the town over the holiday has made me worry. Worry about the learning opportunities that are lost through children not being out and about. Opportunities to observe and chat, speculate and question, things they don’t get to do much in school but which extend their education dynamically. That increases their understanding, language and intelligence.

This is what being out with adults does. Even discussions on the dullest trip round the supermarket can do that. It’s as useful a part of their education as sitting in class or learning passively.

As our town centres empty, will our children be emptying of these experiences too? Emptying of opportunities and experiences which extend their education beyond what any kind of system, classroom or curriculum can do? Worrying!

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6 thoughts on “Where have all the families gone?

  1. We have just moved to Somerset and I am sorry to say that there are very few child-friendly places to go or things to do generally. Shops are really dull for kids and I get stressed out when mine want to run around and mess about which means I can’t concentrate on the tasks I need to achieve. Even the library in Yeovil is really dull.

    Town centres are planned for adults and not kids. Imagine if every town centre/shopping area had a park for the kids. Even a few monkey bars or a swing in the pedestrianised zone.

    There is a great designer outlet place in Ashford, Kent which has an amazing kids park at the heart of it. At weekends and in holidays they have extra things like bouncy castle or water walkerz. I have also noticed, particularly in Somerset, that even the swimming pools are not especially child-friendly. No water slides unless I want to go to the coast and go to a water park.

    The other issue these days is that we are all broke. The retailers have bled us dry. Food prices have spiralled out of control.

    Councils and retailers need to come up with some imaginative ideas for encouraging families back into town centres.

  2. I also noticed the lack of young people as I was out and about with my teen. Instead of empty towns though, I noticed everywhere seemed to be filled with retired people – this is great but the lack of youth made me feel upset, we need people of all ages in town centres to make them buzz.

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