Per usual, Angela Hanscom, author of “Balanced szzbzznree
and Barefoot”and founder of the outdoor program TinderNook, has penned another painfully insightful piece in the Washington Post about the way we keep kids safe. Too safe. So safe that we’re hurting them. This time, she interviewed some kids about what recess is like and got these replies, the first one from a 10-year-old boy:
“We have monkey bars, but we aren’t allowed to go upside down on them. They think we are going to hurt ourselves. I think I’m old enough to try going upside down.”
An 8-year-old girl said, “We have woods, but can’t go anywhere near them. It’s too dangerous.” The kids went on to tell me they weren’t permitted to swing on their bellies or spin in circles, for fear they may get dizzy. “When we have standardized testing, we don’t get recess. The teachers give us chewing gum to help us concentrate on those days,” another child announced.
Wow. ‘m so old I remember when gum was forbidden — and hanging upside down was not.
Basically we are treating the young and the playful as if they are old and infirm. In the process, we are actually MAKING them that. Hanscom notes that in her practice as a pediatric occupational therapist:
We encourage children to go upside down, to jump off objects, to climb to new heights and spin in circles to give them a better sense of body awareness. All of these rapid and changing movements shift the fluid around in the inner ear to develop a strong vestibular (balance) sense. A unifying sense, the vestibular system supports good body awareness, attention and emotional regulation. These skills are fundamental to learning in the classroom.
Just like our muscles, if the vestibular system is neglected due to repeatedly restricting movement, it can weaken over time. This is one reason why many adults claim that they were able to tolerate rides as young children, but now feel sick or nauseous on the Ferris wheel or Tilt-a-Whirl. Many of us aren’t moving in a variety of ways like we did as kids.
I’d wondered why I can’t even swing anymore without feeling motion sick! I don’t want kids to feel that — but they are:
We are seeing this already in little children! Children are spending less time outdoors than ever before, and this is changing the development of their muscles and senses. They are becoming a generation of “unsafe” children — reports of clumsiness and falls are on the rise in schools. …
Lets face it, keeping children sedentary for most of their waking hours is causing harm.
Okay, our job is to show this information to principals, superintendents, parents, pediatricians, police and politicians. Kids are born to move. They must move. Even their grades and test scores NEED them to move — Hanscom prescribes three hours a day.
If they’re not getting that kind of freedom at school, push for it, while also trying to give them free time before and after school. Fight excess homework. Look for fellow Free-Rangers who’d like their kids to play outside with yours. Consider cancelling one supervised, scheduled activity and replacing it with free time. Make sure your town appreciates that kids can and should be outside, running around.
And let us know if and when you do any of this, or if your school or city comes around. My kids’ school banned homework a few years ago. It can be done! – L.