All over the world children are starving. You only need to switch on the news to see images of children in underdeveloped countries suffering with a lack of nutrition while the adults who should know better are too busy fighting or scoring political points off each other to make sure that they are properly nourished. Well I am afraid to say that the very same thing is happening in the developed world. In the developed world it is not that food isn't abundant, it has never been more plentiful! It's that the food we provide is the wrong kind of food. Children in developed nations are eating more highly processed food that is full of sugar and lacking the essintial micro nutrients to support their development than ever before and guess what...there is an obesity epidemic!
Now I could write a lengthy piece about nutrition but there are lots of people out there who can provide you with that kind of information (see Chris Cresser for really in depth stuff or this article for a maintream position or this article for a less maintream view)
But this piece isn't about children being malnourished in terms of what they eat. This article is about children being undernourished in terms of what they do. I believe that children in western societies are starving when it comes to a lack of play.
In her brilliant book 'It's OK not to share', Heather Schumaker argues that play is as essential to the healthy development of children's brain and personality as food is to their physiogical growth and wellbeing. She argues, "What is precious in these early years is play. Free, unstructured, child directed playtime. It's an old fashioned idea with modern Neuroscience backing it up".
"Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity"
- Kay Redfield-Jamison
Looking at the way children's sport is now being provided I have to question whether our generation has begun to be too involved in children's play and started to take it over. There are a whole host of commercial providers who offer 'sport' activity sessions for kids as young as 3. In previous generations these same children would be inventing worlds with wooden blocks, building dens or climbing trees.
I think that there is a tendency to get children 'doing sport' too early and this sports experience can be too focussed on the development of techniques when the children are not ready to take these techniques on board. Schumaker makes reference to this being the 'rule of 7 plus or minus 1' where she refers to how scandinavian eductionalists (children don't start school until the age of seven in Sweden and Finland) consider 7 to be a magic age where children become able to grasp concepts and ideas much more readily.
She proposes that trying to teach things to children before they are ready is actually counter productive and will actually harm a child's development for that aid it.
"Miseducation teaches us the wrong thing at the wrong time"
- David Elkind
In the book she proposes that children should be entitled to develop at their own speed and pace and should not have the aspirations of adults thrust upon them too soon. This is enshrined within a document that is referred to as 'Children's Renegade Rights' which is published in the pre school that she founded.
Children's Renegade Rights
A child has...
A right to unstructured free play
A right to choose her own playmates
A right to use props and chose their own play themes
A right to uninterrupted play during playtime
A right to feel safe
A right not to have objects taken from them (forced sharing)
A right to move and use their body vigorously
A right to be outside
A right to experience and express a full range of their emotions
A right to ask questions and know things
A right to stand up for their own rights by setting limits on others behaviour
A right to be listened to, be respected and have their rights constantly supported by adults
Coming back to the starting point of this post I feel that we are trying to feed our kids the wrong kind of physical diet. Instead of providing a balanced diet of physical activity that is appropriate to their developmental capacities we are force feeding them on a specialised diet of highly structured, adult directed, technique driven sport specific activity that they aren't ready to eat and will ultimately harm their development long term.
I remember watching an awful film during sport relief about a mother in Africa being forced to give her baby solid food because she was too under nourished to produce any milk and there wasnt anything else to eat.
We have a different choice...