These thoughts are not all fully formed, but are swirling around, and I wanted to put them down on paper (so to speak!) and play with them a bit. I figured you guys would understand. Comments are welcome.
I was reading the paper the other day about a group wanting to a bit more "risk" back into children's school playgrounds. We have been so busy taking out anything that they might hurt themselves on, that we seem to have forgotten some of the fundamentally important REASONS for play. Play is NECESSARY for children. However, when the school playground consists of some blacktop and a dirt field, it is not that much fun. The swings, teeter-totters, and most of the climbers have been removed. Some schools have banned BALLS as being dangerous (someone could get hit with one). They have banned "contact games" such as tag. So, what is a child to do at recess? No play equipment, not allowed to bring a ball outside, and not allowed to play tag. Oh, and not allowed to dig in the dirt - their clothes get dirty, and there might be germs.
As I remember recess -many eons ago, I admit - one of my favorite things was to get out early enough to get a swing. I loved to swing, the higher the better. I was a bit of a chicken about jumping off, but I learned to do that. However, I just found swinging to be incredibly soothing and it put me into a very good mood. Little did I know that I was giving myself an Occupational Therapy treatment to help treat my sensory issues. We also skipped. Every day until the snow fell, and as soon as it melted, the black top was full of little girls skipping - the littlest ones doing regular skipping and the older ones skipping double Dutch. It took me forever to learn to skip double Dutch, but I practiced diligently (my poor mother turned the rope until her arms must have been ready to fall off, and helped me learn to deal with frustration of not being able to do it) until I was quite proficient. We played jacks - a great way for me to increase my fine motor skills, which, frankly, have always sucked. That, I have found, is quite common in kids with ADHD. In the winter, we built a snow hill, and wore a slide down it that would get icy and incredibly fast as we went zooming down just on our bottoms, since our snowsuits or snow pants were slippery nylon. We even built bumps into the slide! We learned to get out of the way at the bottom. We learned that pushing in line when it is icy and snowy is not a good idea. Today, this would be replaced by a "heavy work break" by OT, but again, this was just play.
People are asking why we seem to be seeing an "alarming increase" in cases of ADHD. I am seeing a ton of kids with ADHD who have mild sensory issues, but they just can't manage them. Now I am wondering if the two things are related - the "safe play" that children are allowed, and the symptoms we are seeing. There are lots of us out there who were never diagnosed as children - because we managed. How did we manage? Looking back, I think recess had a great deal to do with it. I didn't really like recess, as I didn't have many friends, but I still found things to do, and looking back, they would all be approved as OT interventions for sensory issues today. However, then, they were just play.
Yes, we fell down. Yes, we skinned our knees, and it hurt. Yes, we occasionally got bonked by a swing. Yes, we got hit by flying balls (often thrown at you on purpose!). But we learned. We learned to judge the speed and distance of a swing. We learned to judge what our bodies could do on the climbers. We figured out how to play on the teeter-totter with kids of different sizes. We learned how to take turns in tag, and we learned that it was not always the fastest runner, but the sneakiest, who got out of being "it" the fastest. Were there some serious injuries? Yes, unfortunately, there were.
However, taking out all the risky play seems a bit like throwing out the baby with the bathwater. It is actually safer to fall off a climber onto some pea gravel or wood chips then it is to fall out of a tree. Not nearly as much of a chance of getting impaled on another branch as you go down.
Just some of my rambling thoughts. Are we doing our children a dis-service by taking away all of the risks? Is wrapping them in bubble wrap and then cotton wool really good for them? I was reading in the paper a few weeks ago that Hasbro has changed a lot of the kids board games so they are "snack size games". Apparently, kids are so tightly scheduled that they don't have time for lengthy games like Scrabble or Monopoly, and don't have the attention span with they do have the time. So now there are things like games of Scrabble that only take 10 min, or Monopoly that only takes 30 min.
Is that the best answer, or does it in fact point toward something systemic in our society that we need to fix, rather than Band-Aid?
It is much "sexier" to blame diet, and our food supply, etc. How could it be something as simple as play? After all, aren't we just protecting them and keeping them safe? Risks can't be good for kids, can they? We don't let them climb, or swing to high, or go down the slide - they risk getting hurt. We don't let them play outside as there is the risk of strangers there. Heaven forbid we would let them walk to school by themselves, or ride their bikes. Speaking of which, they are helmeted and padded to the nth degree for anything like that.( Strangely enough, though, we let them play on trampolines with no rules or supervision - and they are far more dangerous then swings, slides or bikes.) We carry hand sanitizer and teach them to use it every 10 minutes - no risk from germs that way. We don't insist that they learn to use the toilet - we wait until they are "ready" (or school threatens to not let them come!) before they are toilet trained, as we don't want to risk damaging their little psyches by forcing them to toilet train at age 2, or 3 or even 4 yrs. (most of them are completely capable of it at 18 mos). We don't want to force them to eat their veggies or any food that they don't like - we all know that that runs the risk of eating disorders. Nobody gets a smack on the butt when they misbehave - that runs the risk of teaching them to become aggressive. Kids are not taught delayed gratification - that runs the risk of a tantrum, which in turn runs the risk of the child being embarrassed, or raising their intracranial pressure enough to have a stroke (yes, I had a parent tell me that recently), or somebody may call CAS because our kids are crying. It also involves the risk that the child will feel unloved, or like they do not have complete control of their lives.
So, this concept of risk has permeated a whole range of parenting behaviours. (I am not criticizing parenting here, or giving advice. I am merely ruminating). I am talking about reasonably "average" kids here. I realize that kids with severe ADHD/ODD/ASD etc. are different and require different parenting strategies.
So, is this risk-avoidance strategy for life that we seem, as a society, to be implementing for our children, really the best one? Or is it leading to other issues, which suddenly seem to have come out of the blue?