Saturday, 8 March 2014

Let The Children Play

Posted by Rosie

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
It's also all about reaching targets and learning.  Children must learn to read as soon as possible.  However if children are not in supervised learning activities parents all too often will not let children out of their site and the result is they are allowed to fill their remaining time with their heads buried in an ever increasing number of technological items that fill our lives today.  If they want to undertake any activity that is perceived as being risky they are either not allowed or are supervised so much they may as well have been wrapped in bubble wrap.  This is what has been termed "Helicopter Parenting" because parents are always hovering near their children.  What this does though is leave little or no time for unsupervised play and the sort of play children want to do and the sort of play that actually helps children develop.  Children no longer have much independence and are becoming increasingly "Nature-Deprived".

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
It seems to me that we are depriving our children of vital life skills that will set them up for the future,  So what can you do to bring play, nature and a bit if risk back into your children's lives?

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!
Exploring alone

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 , 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.





Learning for Life

32 comments :

  1. Also a child of the 70's, we played out all day. Our playground was the woods and there was no adult supervising. My own children are lucky as they have woods to explore too. I think times are changing again, but probably not to the extent that I remember as a child. #CountryKids

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    1. I think they are changing but in two directions - some parents are beginning to once again give their children more freedom, where-as others are further restricting what they can do out of their sight.

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  2. I completely agree, I am as guilty as other parents of letting my kids have too much screen time but in the summer, we try and let them out and get them out as much as possible as it is so important for them. Great post.

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    1. Thank you Nikki - screen free times are a' coming!

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  3. Child of the 60s, so I enjoyed benign neglect, usually out with the dog and friends in a bomb hole in the local fields that had grown full of bushes. I remember the anxiety as I let my two, aged 6 and 4, take their first unsupervised foray into the local streets when we moved from London to South Wales. I got used to it, they came to no harm. Agree wholeheartedly with your post.

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    1. Thank you Fran and I love your term benign neglect. Tt sums up exactly what I hope we achieve with Tom and Ben.

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  4. Agree with you... I always feel that my girl miss those cheap but lovely outside play time... Trying my best to take her out and play outsides. Sometimes I feel guilty that our children spend more time on e gadgets.. :(

    Brilliant post!

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    1. Thank you Nish - we are all guilty at times of too much gadget time but at least if we try and restrict it when we can we will help to give our children a great childhood.

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  5. Couldn't agree more... Love that first photo,really makes you see things (literally, in a very visual way) differently.

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    1. I'd always used the term "Wrapping children in cotton wool" but obviously things have moved on and now it is bubble wrap!

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  6. I think you know where I stand on this one just by looking at the antics my own children get up to but I do feel like I may be the minority in todays world.

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    1. I think we are in the minority (although in fairness living in a rural area does give us an advantage). As a I said to Cheryl I think some parents are getting even more protective of their children day by day.

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  7. I am so glad and proud to say that Aaron often gets to take risks and run free in the great outdoors and that's even though we are in London. I let him go down hill on his balance bike and lots lots more. I have seen the danger of a buggy baby (kids constantly in buggies for long walks) and they don't have the stamina or sense of adventure that Aaron has. When he wanted out of the buggy it was to a scooter and then to a balance bike. It helps that I don't drive as we sometimes cover up to 15 miles in a week the two of us. He's like a whippet. Great great much needed blog post.
    Hugs
    Liska xx

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    1. Thank you Liska - that's a very interesting point that you raise about stamina - I bet a lot of kids, even if not overweight, do not have the stamina that more free range kids do. My two regularly eat me out of house and home but they are both very fit and there's not a scrap of fat on either of them.

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  8. I think you're right, I have such wonderful memories of running off across fields with friends for hours, or cycling off for a long ride with my sister. My kids just don't do that, to the same extent. They spend a lot of time outside, and I don't hover, but they don't have the same level of freedom. #CountryKids

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    1. Today, for many parents there simply is not the space for children to run free from the house every day - too many built up areas and too much traffic - but at least parents, like you, can let them play outside alone when possible, in the garden or let them wander a bit further in the park.

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  9. You're so right Rosie. I grew up in Hertfordshire and we used to play outdoors all the time, I have fond memories of that time. POD is outdoors a lot and she plays with children her own age at nursery too. She's only 3 but I suspect her childhood won't have the same level of freedom as mine, she will always take risks though!

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    1. Charly - you are echoing what lots of people are saying - their childhoods were pretty free but it is physically much harder to give children the freedom now that we had. That is something that will have to come at planning and Government level where-by the streets can be given back to pedestrians and space can be set aside for children to have their freedom back. Oh and the media needs to stop making horror stories where none exist.

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  10. I completely agree with you on this. I remember being allowed to play out and explore on my own from quite a young age but these days there is so much pressure to make sure your children are doing this and aren't doing that. I try and let mine have as much freedom to explore as possible and as for the learning, they all do it in their own time.

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    1. You are right about pressure - parents feel their children have to reach goals and targets where actually more and more evidence is showing that this actually has a negative effect on children.

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  11. Great post. Couldn't agree more. Children need to play outside, take risks, and have plenty of free play.
    Thank you for sharing #LetKidsBeKids

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    1. Thank you Karen - it was your linky combined with the newspaper article I read that inspired me to write this blog.

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  12. A fantastic post, I so wish for a childhood full of freedom for my two. I love the pictures to illustrate also.

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    1. Thank you Jenni - and good luck giving your 2 the childhood all children deserve. The 2 photos of mine are Tom trying a bit of body art and Ben wandering off to explore on a very large beach when he was about 2.

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  13. Completely agree, but I think (certainly where I live) traffic is part of the problem. We have a lovely group of children who live in the houses in our street and they often play out on the front paths or in other kids back gardens when the weather is good. However I am nervous about them crossing the road back and forth between houses. I know they need to do it, but we do get quite a lot of cars coming down the road that don't seem to pay much attention to the fact that kids are out and about.

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    1. I think the amount of traffic and the speed it travels at has been a major factor on reducing the freedom afforded to our children. In The Netherlands and some other countries towns are now planned where the pedestrian and therefore the playing child is given priority over the car - many areas are car free and where cars can go their speed is greatly reduced. Government here needs to realise that this is one way to reducing the obesity problem in so many children - they simply have no-where to go and do what children are supposed to do - run and play and it is only through planning children friendly towns that this can be redressed.

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  14. I totally agree with this post - children need to play outdoors and need the freedom to do so - we need to try and enrich our children's lives as much as possible - great post, stopping over from Countrykids :)

    laura x

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    1. Thank you Laura - freedom for children to do their own thing is so important yet for some children this is sadly lacking.

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  15. I totally agree with you and don't feel I have much else to add after everyone's comments. I will say though that I absolutely hate the competitive thing that goes on in the school holidays around here with some parents taking their kids off to softplay, Go Ape, cinema, restaurants, paintballing, karting, whatever, every single day. They never just leave their kids to create their own fun or even (shock horror..) be bored! Life is boring sometimes and kids have to deal with that too. These competitive parents look down on those who choose NOT to do an organised activity every day and just stay at home! When I lived in the Paris area I knew families who took their children to Disneyland EVERY SINGLE Wednesday! If this is the norm for these kids what on earth is a treat? We are not only "depriving our children of vital life skills" but breeding a generation of spoilt brats too! (Gosh I sound old-fashioned!!!)

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    1. We have the same views about competitive, do-something-every-day type parents and I don't think we are old fashioned - we are right! I read somewhere that children need to be bored at times in order to become creative. And like you say, without the boring bits how can you ever have a treat and what have children got to look forward to? My two are certainly not taken somewhere every free moment but they are 2 happy and imaginative boys who create their own fun and games.

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  16. Totally agree with you! Being outdoors and immersed in nature provides all those opportunities you talk about. Everything you describe I would like to allow my Little Man the chance to experience. Thanks so much for sharing at the Outdoor Play Party

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    1. Thank you - Little Man will have great fun playing then!

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