Did you see the feature in Saturday’s Telegraph reporting on a letter from a powerful lobby of more than 200 experts? In it, they warn that childhood is being eroded by a relentless diet of advertising, addictive computer games, test-driven education and poor childcare. Coinciding with the publication of a book, Too Much, Too Soon?, featuring 23 essays on early learning and the erosion of childhood, the experts urge the Government to address a culture of “too much, too soon.”
One essay by Sally Goddard Blythe, Director of the Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology in Chester, concluded that up to half of children were not ready for school at the age of five because of their “sedentary lifestyles”. They found it difficult to grip pencils properly, sit still, stand up straight and even catch a ball after failing to develop key physical and communication skills at a young age.
The authors of the letter, a group of academics, teachers, authors and charity leaders, argue that children’s wellbeing and mental health is being undermined by the pressures of modern life. These comments come five years after many of the same experts sent a similar letter to the Telegraph, criticising politicians and the public for failing to allow children to develop properly at a young age. This led to a debate on the state of childhood in Britain and coincided with the publication of Labour’s Children’s Plan - a policy document covering all aspects of young people’s lives.
The group is concerned that the “erosion of childhood in Britain has continued apace since 2006.” Meanwhile a UN report, published last week, accused British parents of trapping children in a cycle of “compulsive consumerism” by showering them with toys and designer labels instead of spending quality time with them. The group also criticises the education system, saying that five year-olds should be given a play-based curriculum in the first full year of school instead of formal lessons. The comments will be seen as a criticism of Coalition plans to subject all children to a reading test at the end of their first year in school.
You’ll have seen from our earlier blog posts that we have explained the critical links between the development of motor skills and hand-eye co-ordination and the development of literacy skills. In our classes at nurseries and primary schools, we see for ourselves only too clearly how the life of the modern child has become stressful, competitive and challenging. That’s why we’re absolutely committed and passionate about changing children’s lives so that they have the time to indulge in their imaginations and explore their creativity. Space to be creative is so important in this modern world where children have such little time to play.
One of the very best things we can do for our children’s early literacy development is to simply let them play. Not only is play an important part of childhood, but we are actually helping them to build skills that are key to learning to read and write. Hand-eye coordination is a necessary skill for written language and the best way to help children develop this is to let them play with toys and activities that involve looking at, using, and discriminating a number of elements.
Furthermore in order to reach age appropriate targets in the development of left and right brain activity, children need to practice mid-line activities such as crawling, marching and balancing. For some children, developing these skills is particularly challenging so making this fun is key. Activities that combine story-telling and magical adventures with physical activities such as yoga are a great way of developing imaginations whilst practising essential developmental motor skills.
We’ve written to The Telegraph adding our support to this letter. Meanwhile thank you to this group of experts for highlighting these issues so powerfully.