The NDP's Nycole Turmel on childhood play

May 11, 2012

Nycole Turmel was interim leader of the New Democratic Party. She is currently MP for Hull-Aylmer.

Where did you spend your childhood?

It was in Quebec City. I was living about 30 miles east of Quebec City.

Was it a happy childhood?

Oh, yes. We were playing outside a lot. A lot. Wintertime and summertime. We were doing campfires. We were building forts. I played a lot of marbles. I was really good at marbles! Skipping a lot. Bicycling. To go anywhere, we had to bicycle. There was a lot of fun.

The families were bigger. At home, we were five kids. Most of our cousins were near. We had a lot of cousins. We played together with the neighbours. There was none of that fear you have today. We were playing in the street. Now, you have to be careful about security. It wasn't a question at the time.

What was your favourite childhood activity?

Skipping. And marbles. But I was skiing, as well. I was doing all kinds of sports.

Nowadays, children's sports are organized. Did you have any structured activities as a girl?

Oh, no. I was playing tennis. I always felt it was bad in my municipality to not organize tennis courses. There was nothing organized in my childhood. We organized ourselves. We were living close to a river. The river was just across the street, so we were organizing forts on the side of the river. Our parents were not really careful about possible accidents.

Do you have grandchildren?

I have nine.

What sorts of activities did you participate in as a child that you would be appalled to see your grandchildren doing now?

Playing in the street could be dangerous for them. Or later in the night, coming back from sports walking alone on trails. I would say this is dangerous. At the time, it was not.

So-called "structured play" – is that an oxymoron?

It is good for them to learn how to play. To play baseball, to play tennis, they have to learn but at the same time there is so much effort put on to make sure they become elite, that they become the best, that you put aside the fun of it. You forget the fun.

What can be done to bring simple fun back into childhood play?

I believe you have to first put some rules. Get the kids to put aside their electronic games.

When you have grandkids around you, all of them are sitting in the room and they don't talk to each other. They play [electronic]games and show to each other how good they are. In my time, you had fights between the kids when we were in a room. My parents, or even myself when I was raising the kids, we had always to say, "Okay, that's enough!" But at the same time, [now]they don't learn to play together. They don't learn to play outside, they don't learn to have fun. And that's sad. We need to find ways for them to do this. The parents are ambitious now. Society wants them to push their kids to do better.

Better financially, or in a social sense, but what about happier and more well-rounded?

Exactly. Right now, you don't let them get up a tree. You are worried that they will fall. It is different today. Things I would like them to do, like go outside and play marbles, they don't want to do. We didn't pass on this tradition, to just have fun.

Would you considering skipping for your grandkids? Would they think Grandma was strange if you did? Would they even know what skipping is?

I don't think they know what skipping is. I took them to the cottage once. I had five grandkids at the time. I didn't have structured games. The Internet was not working out there. They just had to play outside. We played games. Some of this has been passed on. I played checkers with them. We played cards a lot together. I'm happy about it because everybody plays. It doesn't matter the age.

I think they enjoyed it. They were cousins together. I had to take care of their fights but that was okay. They had fun and they talk about it a lot.

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