Australian kids have a very different childhood to their parents. A generation ago kids played in the streets, often out of sight and contact from their parents for hours on end. In many neighbourhoods today this would be regarded as parental negligence. Where once kids found their own way to school on foot or bike, today most kids are driven to school. The games they play are also different, the vast majority of game time is screen based – whether it is at home, in the car, or at a friend’s place – the screen is the focal point. All of this has implications for childhood learning and wellbeing and the role of schools, writes Anthony Phillips – Director, Camp Australia.
Many young families today have tried to follow the Australian dream and so look to buy their own home so that they can settle down and raise a family. With property pricing being what they are, this is usually a significant financial burden. There are a number of flow-on effects from this which significantly change the physical nature of childhood today:
- In three out of five Australian families both parents work;
- Housing blocks are smaller, houses are bigger, making backyards much smaller; and,
- Safety concerns discourage kids being on the street or at home unsupervised.
While these are relatively easy for parents and teachers to comprehend, the impact of the internet and social media is perhaps less understood. While the internet provides children with access to an unprecedented level of information, it is not without its problems. Firstly many young children cannot distinguish between fact and fiction, or quality and nonsense on the internet. Secondly the internet makes the full breadth of human nature available to anyone who wants to see it – and unfortunately to many who do not. Subsequently the internet is not a safe neighbourhood. Social media is also proving to have some unforeseen consequences. One familiar to many schools, although more typically high schools, is cyber-bullying. One less understood by older generations is the relentless pressure on children to be ‘on’ because their peers are also their paparazzi. With modern phones, any mistake can be recorded and published on social media before the individual has even had time to recover their breath or get their bearings. With these things in mind perhaps we should be grateful that more kids are not suffering from stress and anxiety, rather than surprised that a few of them are.
Many parents are trying hard to ensure physical activity is part of the kid’s child-hood. It is one of the reasons that organised sport is such a major part of the lives of many children outside of school hours. However while this is commendable, structured sporting activities, particularly competitive ones, do not replace all of the benefits children were getting from unstructured play a generation ago.
Unstructured or free play allows children to explore and extend their physical and mental capabilities in their own way. Learning life skills like negotiation, compromise, leadership and teamwork in a variety of circumstances and often from a number of perspectives. For example a simple game of hide-and-seek quickly gives a child the perspective of both the hunter and the hunted. Imagination games allow children to explore the role and importance of rules as they create their own world order. They also help them to understand that in order to lead, one needs to have the ability to get others to follow. Many of these games by their nature combine physical and mental stimulation and activity in ways that build a child’s self confidence in both of these spheres.
It is perhaps a little ironic that after school care, which a generation ago was regarded by children as restrictive, is now one of the best opportunities a child has for free play. This is not to say that it is unstructured chaos, or a longer version of lunch time. However, quality after school care does provide children with a safe environment in which they are encouraged to explore their own ideas as well as new things. After School Care is not what it used to be, it delivers a safe, reliable and nurturing environment for kids to play and grow and it definitely makes kids smile – that is why we do it.
Anthony Phillips is a qualified teacher with over 30 years’ experience in education and school aged care services. As founder and Director of Camp Australia, a leading and trusted after school care organisation providing services to more than 600 schools. Through the Camp Australia Foundation Anthony also strives to positively impact the lives of children beyond the school yard fence.