So here I sit, in my kitchen, overlooking the garden in all of it’s autumnal beauty. The leaves a symphony of colours and shades, the air crisp and still and sounds of the local avian population busy in their communications. A perfect opportunity to create new thoughts. I was pondering on what I could write about for the daily prompt, when conkers clambered for my attention and started the ball rolling.
The spiky outer cases that open to reveal the treasure hidden inside were something of a staple in my childhood. Perhaps I am showing my age, but the excitement and determination to find the largest or strongest conker amongst friends was a normal activity. This is when my brain sparked a connection. Children of today aren’t savvy to the delights of conker battles, because, like so many other “rites of passage” they have been banned from our society.
Perhaps a little over dramatic, but when you consider the amount of childhood past times that are no longer available to our younger generations, I think I can be excused. Health and Safety has it’s place (my better half makes a living in this field so I can appreciate the need) but it should be measured against the risks involved and in no place more important than in our schools. I am saddened to see the ability of children to navigate their way through some of life’s challenges being slowly stripped away because we deny them the opportunity to measure their own risk assessment.
Accidents happen, I couldn’t agree more. Childhood, in its whole essence, is about exploration (of themselves and the world around them) and discovery, and this, almost inevitably, will lead to a “scrape” or two along the way. Guess what though… those scrapes are the foundation of building a confident, well-rounded and informed person of the future. Instead, at the rate that “blanket rules” are being enforced for all children, we will end up with a generation of individuals who have no voice, no tools for dealing with disappointment and no accountability for their own decisions/actions. Rather than trying to avoid accidents, we are creating a disaster waiting to happen.
You might be wondering about these blanket rules… what sinister things are lying in wait to capture our children’s individuality? Well, I might have exaggerated their existence a little – or have I? The rules that I am referring to are the ones that are systematically banning any activities that may cause accidents/upsets to our young charges.
Think about conkers, the game TAG, British Bulldog, Clackers, Handstands, Cartwheels, Dodge-ball and even snowball fights. How many of you enjoyed such past times as a youngster? How many of you suffered terribly from such participation? How many of you are scarred (mentally or physically) after these interactions? How many of you grew up to be sensible and competent members of society? I don’t think it’s an over-exaggeration when I say that our future will be taking such a different form to the one we are used to. All because we are refusing our children the right to manage their own risk taking.
In all honesty, can society expect a generation that has had all kinds of risks eliminated, in the guise of protection, be able to flourish as independent, confident and cooperative people of the future? The banning of such games may seem trivial but the benefits of encouraging them outweigh the negative. Tag, you’re it! There can’t be many people around who haven’t played this game, however, in their infinite wisdom, education leaders across the land have decreed that this game be banned as it encourages slapping, pushing and hitting rather than ‘touching’ their intended target. Alarmingly, I have read that children wanting to participate in the game must NOT run, but walk! Seriously, where’s the fun in that? Competition is a normal part of our society. After all, if we don’t encourage competition who is going to take responsibility for the country? For the workplace? To go for that promotion? Or simply, just to further your own boundaries. In the education system, competition is frowned upon. Sports days are often celebrated with the “I participated” badges – few of the “1st” “2nd” and “3rd” are encouraged because we don’t want to hurt the less skillful children’s feelings!
So it is with playground games! Don’t play Tag because in your excitement you might hurt (either physically or emotionally) another’s feelings – I don’t know about you, but I’m the same with the rather sedentary game of snap…give me an opportunity and I’ll be found slapping that pile with such ferocity that if your hand happens to be underneath, it will likely be smarting for a while! In the guise of protecting the safety of individuals in the likes of Dodge-ball (a contact sport??) we are missing out on exploiting opportunities for team building, determination and dare I say it… having some fun. It seems that we spend far too much time worrying about risks and hazards that we forget who we are dealing with – children need to experience fun and frivolity and not be wrapped in a cotton wool bubble.
I am able to express these views on two fronts. My first, as a parent to three children that grew up with tears before bed, dirty hands, scraped knees and elbows (war trophies to be proud of) but also as an educator for over 15 years. Do I enforce these ridiculous rules? Of course I do. Do I agree with them? Hell no! The moment schools allowed “anxious” parents the assumption that they had a right to veto any activity/policy that did not suit “their” child was the moment that schools gave away any positive chance that our future generation ever had of finding their own, individual, way of navigating the real world. In my opinion (as humble as it may be) I think it would serve society better to equip our children with the tools to avoid and measure any risks rather than eliminate them all and hope for the best!