Monday, 28 December 2015

What's happening to children's freedom to move - and to fail?

I don't know if it was the same for you, but I learnt to balance and to ride scooters and bikes through a lot of falling of. Some in sight of my parents, but mostly outdoors on my own. I can also remember my first trip to ice-skating - at the old Richmond ice-rink, now sadly gone. My main early memories are of falling down a lot and getting pretty wet and cold. And lots of blisters.

It makes me wonder what's going on, when I see children on little trikes with poles attached to the back? Or being pulled along on scooters. Perhaps the poles and straps are mostly about safety anxieties - ensuring that children stay close at hand. Or maybe we're all in too much of a hurry to let young children potter about, head the wrong way, and generally hold things up?


Out ice-skating during an unseasonably warm Christmas Eve, on an unexpectedly wet rink, I saw a device for hire called Bobby the Seal. Some children were holding onto Bobby whilst adults pulled them round, and even more took a seat on Bobby's back for a rather slow ride round and round in circles. Again I wondered - is this because of fears about children falling over on the ice and hurting themselves? Or because it feels like too much work to be on the ice with them, encouraging them along, helping them up when they fall, and providing comfort when needed?

I suspect that in the 1970s, many parents would tolerate or ignore their children's crying and hurt after falling over. Today that might seem harsh, and you might get looked at.

My hunch is that many of us are afraid to see our children fall or fail - and these aids offer a way of mediating our fears. But the result, surely, is that it becomes harder for children to learn new skills. I just can't imagine how you progress from Bobby, to independent skating. Nor can I see how you learn about managing your own risks if your scooter is tethered to an adult arm.

Isn't it time to let the children go?