In 2013 the American Academy of Pediatrics released research results indicating the average child spends 8 hours a day in front of a screen (TV, smart phones, video games, computers etc). In the UK 75% of children spend less time outdoors than prison inmates. What are the effects of this sedentary childhood life style, need we be concerned?
Balanced and Barefoot, by Angela Hanscom (founder of Timbernook) highlights how child play has changed over recent decades from playing outside freely with other children in nature or within man made play structures that would be deemed a health and safety (or lawsuit) risk to the sedentary lifestyles of immediate entertainment in a swipe culture of tablets, tvs and video games. Hanscom highlights the effects that we are currently seeing in children with health and cognitive difficulties.
Hanscom references a lot of research highlighting the increase of children having difficulty with poor attention skills, controlling emotions, balance, decreased strength and endurance and weakened immune system. Hanscom believes their is a correlation between these and and changes in play among children. To counter act this change in culture Hanscom is not just advocating a more active lifestyle, but more free play (play which is not led by an adult, so football training for a local team does not count).
When initiating free play children need to come up with play schemes, present their ideas to others in a way that makes them want to play and once a few children are involved they start to negotiate their play and create a more elaborate form of pretend play. This process of play helps to develop creativity, independence and social skills which help them relate to and understand others. Through regular free play children are able to learn their abilities, likes (and dislikes) how to regulate their emotions and become flexible, resilient and capable. Whilst these skills could be be developed in an adult led activity, the child has a greater sense of ownership and sees that they have been able to cope with these situations helping children become successful wit relationships, school and work experiences in later life.
Balanced and Barefoot reads like a manifesto and a manual, using scientific research to highlight issues with child play, whilst also providing a framework for how much play children should have and how to support this.