Societies are always changing - that is the nature of things. However I feel that some of the changes today in the way we perceive we help our children develop and keep them safe has changed, not for the good, but very much for the worse. Society now expects that as parents we should be spend as much time as possible with our children in an array of ever more expensive activities.
|Image from Time Topics|
Children learn through risk and what better risky play than tree climbing, den building and playing in streams and rivers. If you don't allow your children to learn how to deal with potentially dangerous situations and make informed decisions about how risky something is, you are setting them up for a life where they either recede further into the "safe" world of computers etc or they will head out to experience danger without knowing when or how to stop. This, I believe is at the core of the current dare craze of NexNominate. Young people who have spent all their lives protected from taking risks break out in the only way they can and rebel to the extreme, sometimes with fatal results.
Even the play areas where many children spend the majority of their outdoor time are now specially designed with all the steps the same size, safety barriers and safety surfaces. In a risk-averse, litigation-centred world, local authorities have been pushed into providing these so-called safe play areas as opposed to the slightly more risky ones our children actually need. Fallen trees are all too quickly sawn up and removed, rivers are fenced off and potential risks are removed from our lives.
According to a National Trust report, the range children can roam free from their homes has shrunk 90% since the 70's. 90% means little more than the back garden. Yet at the same time more children are becoming obese and childhood mental health problems are on the increase.
As a child of the 70's I would often spend all day out, frequently alone as I lived on an isolated farm and often in what would now be considered by many parents today to be far too risky locations. Hiding in the top of the hay barn, climbing trees and sliding down muddy banks are some of my favourite childhood memories. OK, sometimes I came home with a bruise or a scratch but that served to teach me how not to get hurt next time. Whilst I was alone because of where I lived many more children of my generation would have played together, outside and away from adult eyes. Common games to be enjoyed by all were found and arguments were sorted without any parental intervention thus giving children valuable compromising and negotiating skills for later life.
|Children led play|
1. Turn off the screens and initiate some other activities. By all means set some ideas in motion but go with what your children like - let them lead the way.
2. Have some rough and tumble - these games are great at helping children learn about their bodies, develop core strengths and understand what is good and what is too rough!
3. Offer a range of natural experiences where children are free to explore and make their own games and fun - the beach, the woods, the park are all worth visiting and in all seasons. Take them to places they have never been before and let them lead the exploration.
4. But your children also need to play without you being there. For this reason mixed age groups are brilliant. Children of all ages playing together, finding fun that unites them all. Smaller children learn from bigger ones and bigger ones are responsible for younger ones. In this way children feel part of a community and as social animals this is critical for development and well being.
5. Allow children as much freedom as possible. Set some safety ground rules but keep these to a minimum. Let them get dirty. Let them take risks. Let them sort out their own arguments. Let them be children!
It is one of the reasons we moved to France so we could give the Tom and Ben the kind of childhood we both had. The type where mud and sticking plasters were normal and the TV was a treat for really horrible days or when we were ill. Children only get one shot at childhood so do we not owe it to them to make it as free and as fun as possible? In doing so we will be setting them well on the way to a balanced adulthood far more, I believe, than if their every waking moment is filled with arranged activities in supervised environments or in front of a screen of some sort.
I have based this blog post on this article written by Dr David Whitebread, Senior Lecturer in the Psychology of Education at Cambridge University and published recently in The Daily Telegraph. I have reiterated much of what he wrote adding my own personal opinions and experiences. Now it is over to you. Do you agree with what I have written or do you disagree? Please do let me know in the comments.