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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Let The Children Play

Children are so cocooned by their parents that they rarely venture far from home and have little concept of space, volume and how the world actually works, David Willetts, the shadow education secretary, said yesterday.

The area in which children were allowed to range freely by their parents was a ninth of what it was a generation ago, he said. He also referred to "most worrying" research which showed children could not grasp basic maths.

"The research tracked the grasp of basic mathematical concepts. For example, you pour water from a tall thin glass into a broad low glass and ask the children if it is the same volume of water.

advertisement"The evidence is that in the past 10 or 15 years or so the proportion of children who understand at the age of seven that it is the same volume of water has gone down significantly.

"The explanation could well lie in the increasingly flat world that they inhabit."

Mr Willetts's comments come amid increasing concern that children's experiences are being stifled by over-anxious parents obsessed with "stranger danger", and an increasingly litigious society which means schools and clubs are nervous about taking children on activity holidays and adventure trips.

As a consequence, children who sit in front of their computer or television, grow up with concentration problems as a result, and suffer a "nature deficit disorder", Mr Willetts said.

"Too little nature, too much television; there is evidence showing that this leads to attention difficulties. For each hour of television watched per day by pre-schoolers, there is a 10 per cent increase in the likelihood they will develop concentration problems and symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder by the age of seven."

Mr Willetts was addressing the Daycare Trust conference into child care and the way children are raised.

He said he was convinced that children develop their conceptual framework through experiencing the world in three dimensions.

"It is very hard to make sense of geometry if you haven't thrown a ball around or make sense of volume if you haven't messed about with water and sand or do arithmetic if you haven't collected things and arranged them."

He said the Conservatives were examining what was putting off schools and clubs from running trips.

Earlier this week, Britain's safety charity suggested it would be better for the occasional child to fall out of a tree and break their wrist than develop repetitive strain injury from playing computer games.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents said parents were too risk-averse and youngsters should be allowed to bruise and cut themselves.

Flexible child care call

Parents need nurseries and school clubs to open at weekends or in the evenings to help them cope with increasingly anti-social working hours, says a report released yesterday by the Daycare Trust.

"The hours of availability of child care often restricts employment opportunities for parents, or requires an understanding employer."
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