Is playtime too dangerous?

AS every schoolchild will freely admit, playtime is always the high point in the day's academic calendar.But now, according to the latest research, we're in danger of stifling our youngsters' playful pursuits because of an over-zealous approach to danger.

AS every schoolchild will freely admit, playtime is always the high point in the day's academic calendar.

But now, according to the latest research, we're in danger of stifling our youngsters' playful pursuits because of an over-zealous approach to danger. Debbie Watson reports on the threatened end to playground fun.

YOU can't play tag, mustn't use yo-yos, shouldn't have conker contests – and, however innocent it sounds, you are absolutely forbidden from making daisy chains!

This, believe it or not, is the very real indication of a cautious principle being adopted nationwide by Britain's schools.

Where once we might have performed endless handstands and run ourselves around the playground to the point of absolute exhaustion during our mid- morning breaks from class, these days – researchers claim – our excessive culture of caution is slamming a ban on such pursuits.

This week a national report by the Children's Society and Children's Play Council (which polled 500 youngsters) has revealed that primary schools are so frightened by the prospect of allowing innocent games and pasttimes, that they're taking them off the agenda altogether.

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Revealing a startlingly compromised picture of traditional childhood school days, it found that certain schools were:

- Banning the making of daisy chains in case children should pick up germs or injure themselves.

- Saying 'no' to the practise of climbing up trees or on climbing frames for fear that accidents would happen.

- Refusing to accept the pursuits of handstands, tag and playing in water – again because accidents may be likely.

Indeed, no-one denies that safety should, without exception, be absolutely paramount.

Not only in schools, but equally at play centres and leisure facilities, it's the one factor that must be considered wherever large groups of children are free to enjoy their leisure time.

But can we take it too far?

Is our obsession with caution driving us beyond safety-awareness, and into the very serious potential for needlessly compromising a child's upbringing?

This is certainly the feeling of those who champion the very concept of children's play.

"We are not pointing the finger of blame for a growing culture of caution at any one group, but individuals and organisations have an important role in making play exciting," commented director of Children's Play Council, Tim Gill.

Another charity, the Play Safety Forum, was equally unnerved by the latest findings. A spokesman said: "Play provision is first and foremost for children, and if it is not exciting and attractive to them, then it will fail, no matter how `safe' it is."

Such charities are now pushing for a thorough audit into such playground restrictions, but in the meantime, the verdict of this latest research clearly sounds an extra alarm bell on the state of Britain's youngsters – and in particular, their health.

It's already been reported extensively that young Britons are not getting enough exercise and are eating the wrong things to keep them at optimum health and fitness.

With that in mind, it's surely not at all helpful to hear that our children are being given even more reason to wriggle out of physical playground pasttimes, and to sit indulging in the 'safe' (but unfit) pursuit of playing the latest computer games.

"Giving children the scope to play is really important," said childcare manager for the Ipswich YMCA, Sarah Nicol.

"It's important that they have the chance to run around outside, get fresh air, interact with other youngsters, and get some essential exercise at the same time."

Sarah is in the midst of running a summertime playscheme at the Ipswich YMCA. She is a keen champion of outdoor play, but understands why it has become more of a contentious point in schools.

"We are always on tenterhooks when we run the play sessions and you remain very aware of the dangers all the time," commented Sarah.

"That's why we insist on everything being properly supervised with the correct ratio of staff to children – that way, we should be able to ensure that activities are as safe as they can be."

She added: "Parents are far more worried and conscious of safety implications, so, likewise, the organisers of any play activity are going to be more cautious.

"Even so, it it's important that we don't get so fearful that we stop letting children play.

"We know that adults are more worried about letting their youngsters go and play freely on the streets around their home, so when they have a chance to enjoy some playtime in an organised environment, we should use that opportunity as much as we can.

"It's crucial that we don't get so frightened that we end up stopping them from taking part in the things that will ultimately make them healthy – and happy."

Should this thorough playtime audit now reveal that youngsters are in 'too much danger' by playing the likes of tag, it will surely be interesting to find out how medics evaluate the dangers of permanently sitting inside in realtive safety.

After all, we can take the play activities away from the children altogether – but is it any safer to turn our youngsters into games-console-whizzkids who are seriously bordering on the irrepairable conditions associated with childhood obesity?



- The poll questioned children under the age of 15 and 539 youngsters took part.

- Almost half (45 per cent) complained they were stopped from playing with water.

36pc said they were stopped from climbing trees.

- More than a quarter (27pc) said they could not play on climbing equipment.

- Another 23pc complained they were not allowed to ride bicycles or skateboards.

- Half said they only visited their local playground occasionally.

- Children's charities are asking schools and councils to take part in an audit to determine whether youngsters can: make daisy chains, ride skateboards and bicycles, play tag and running games, use climbing frames, play with yo-yos and conkers, and do handstands.

- The research coincides with this week's National Playday.

The theme for the 15th National Playday is "take a chance on play', and more than 100,000 youngsters were taking part in events across the country.

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