NDNA prompts free-range debate
I found this year’s annual NDNA conference particularly thought-provoking and this sentiment was echoed by all of those I spoke to during the lunch and coffee breaks. While the state of the business always provides the context for the event, this year delegates were also encouraged to reflect deeply on the health of the nation’s children. A common theme among many of the speakers was, what role can nurseries play to give children the freedoms that enhance their mental and physical wellbeing?
This was certainly taken up by Professor Tanya Byron in her talk on strategies to promote positive behaviour. She pointed to the perils over-protective parenting, resulting in children now having to play – physically and metaphorically - ‘in a very small place…’ Deprived of the right to roam and indulge in rough-and-tumble, children no longer know how to fall without hurting themselves, thus perpetuating the vicious-circle of a risk-averse culture.
This chimed closely with Tim Gill’s well-argued presentation on the second day which made the case for free-range children. And also with Tam Fry, who outlined that exercise was just as important as diet in the fight against obesity – and that young children these days typically only enjoy 17 minutes of exercise a day.
As Tim Gill said – ‘We need to support parents, so they feel able to give their children some of the freedoms that previous generations enjoyed when they were young.’ This seems fair enough in that anyone of my generation – and those somewhat younger – will undoubtedly have fond memories of their own childhood freedoms. For myself, it was a case of going out on my bike in the morning, and coming home in time for tea (we’re talking aged eight and up). It’s difficult to imagine that as being acceptable these days.
Working with parents to combat over-protectiveness is key – although around such sensitive issues as exercise, diet and child freedoms, it is never going to be easy. This makes the NDNA’s study on parental engagement, conducted with the University of Oxford, all the more pertinent. It will make very interesting reading when it is published at the end of August.