Wednesday, 21 May 2014

So Australian children get a D-

for physical activity do they? They even rank behind countries like the UK, Canada and Finland and - let's face it - those countries have winters which are much worse than ours.
I have, as regular readers know, been pedalling to and from a local hospital recently. It takes me about fifteen minutes to get there and about twenty minutes to get back - yes, coming back is uphill.
My route takes me on a path which runs between a local primary school and an oval the children are allowed to use during the lunch hour. There is no road to cross between the two and I slow my pedalling to walking speed because there are always some children who will completely fail to look where they are going. Collisions between themselves occur and I do not want to be responsible for any collisions with me. Thankfully most of the active children still seem to be agile enough to work a split second avoidance manoeuvre.
But I have been observing the children as I go through. Some of them are just standing there. Some of them are leaning against the trees. There are small groups of girls sitting on a low wall and on the grass near the play equipment. There are usually three or four children using that equipment - girls rather than boys.
Some of the boys are on the oval kicking a ball around - but under the close supervision of a teacher. Other children seem to be playing some sort of game which does involve moving around. There is no evidence of skipping ropes, hopscotch or "elastics" - perhaps it is the wrong season. I have forgotten when my generation played those things.  Of course it is possible they do not play those things at all. They may have been banned on safety grounds. I need to ask the little drummer boy next door - although he may not know either.
And, when I return from the hospital visit, it is the time school finishes for the day. Those children who are not in after school care are being collected by grandparents and a few non-working parents. The streets around the school are crowded with cars. I recognise some of the people. I know they live locally - certainly within walking distance of the school. Perhaps they are always going on somewhere else. Almost nobody seems to walk to and from school. The bike enclosure is not crowded and very few children in the final two years seem to be trusted to travel to and from school alone - and I do not doubt their parents are, at very least, cautioned about doing so - if not openly criticised.
And I know children who are not permitted to play outside in their own back gardens unless there is an adult there to supervise. Even if they were permitted to play outside alone there are the competing pleasures of screen based entertainment.
What chance do children really have to exercise? We spent days outside in countryside - with some of the deadliest wildlife in the world. We disappeared for the entire day and knew to return home when it was growing dark.
I know city children cannot do that and there are endless problems with letting them roam free but perhaps we need a few more "adventure" type playgrounds - not the sterile and "safe" schoolyard. Our climate is largely ideal for outdoor play but we will go on getting a D- (or worse) unless children are actually allowed and encouraged to play outside without adult supervision.
Does it matter? I think it does - for the future mental as well as the physical health of the next generation. Or, am I wrong in thinking that?

No comments: