As this is a longish post – perhaps a 10-minute read – here are the main takeaways:
- Children are much less likely to become seriously ill from Covid-19 than adults, and appear less likely to become infected.
- Unlike with influenza, it appears that children are not more likely than adults to spread the disease, and may be significantly less likely.
- There are good grounds for thinking that outdoor environments present a low risk of infection compared to indoor ones, especially where the time spent in close proximity to other people is short.
- Pandemic control measures are likely to lead to significant collateral damage to children, with the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children worst affected.
- Government, local authorities and other public agencies should take a balanced approach to supporting children through the pandemic. They should:
- Encourage schools and child care centres to take learning activities outdoors, prioritising play and breaks, and maximize outdoor play time, as they reopen.
- Open all remaining closed parks, review the closure of playgrounds, and take a supportive approach to the oversight of children’s play and socialising in public space.
- Address the circumstances of disadvantaged children as a matter of urgency.
- Prioritise children’s active travel to school, to help reduce peak hours congestion.
- Closely monitor emerging evidence, especially from countries that have relevant experience of relaxing measures.
- Encourage the public to engage with and understand the evidence base, and keep them informed as it grows.
The government’s plans for relaxing the lockdown, including greater freedom to spend time outside, and the possible re-opening of schools, have unsurprisingly generated huge debate. At the same time, evidence is growing on how Covid-19 affects children, and of children’s role in the spread of the disease. This post shares my take on that evidence base and its implications.
The post starts with a summary of the clinical and epidemiological evidence base. It then looks at the collateral damage to children of the pandemic control measures. It closes with implications for policy and practice, with a particular focus on children’s play and mobility.
Posted in Covid-19, Education, Health, Outdoor play, Public policy
Tagged child safety, childcare, coronavirus, Covid-19, education, health, outdoor education, public policy, Risk
Anji Play – a public kindergarten service running in 140 centres for 14,000 children aged 3-6 in Anji County, China – is gaining an international profile for its emphasis on outdoor play and its relaxed approach to risk. I first stumbled on it a couple of years ago, thanks to this widely-shared video on Facebook. More recently my curiosity was piqued by its inclusion in a superb episode of the Netflix TV documentary ‘Abstract’, on the US construction toy designer and play advocate Cas Holman.
Then I realised that an upcoming trip to China was going to take me literally to Anji Play’s doorstep. So I persuaded my Chinese clients to exploit this lucky coincidence and set up a visit.
My first view of the schoolyard at Anji Play
This post shares some thoughts on what I saw and heard. It ends with a short interview with Anji Play’s founder, Cheng Xueqin, who has just stepped down from her role as head of service.
Posted in early childhood, Education, Morality, Outdoor play, play
Tagged Anji Play, China, early childhood, early years, education, outdoor play, risky play
A few months ago I was asked to do an email interview by Maya, a senior high school student from California, as part of her project. (She has asked me not to use her last name.)
The questions were smart, she knew her stuff, and she had read some of my writings. (Top tip to other students who ask for help with their projects: always do this.) So I agreed.
When I was finished I thought: Maya’s questions were so astute that maybe I should share the interview more widely. So I asked her. And she agreed.
Here is the interview, published just in time for the Child in the City conference in Vienna (where my keynote speech will give a sneak preview of the key findings of my study tour on child-friendly urban planning). As always, feedback and comments are welcome!
What would you say are the biggest health problems/hazards facing children living in large cities? Are there particular issues for children living in low income areas?
[Note: I have added updates at the end of this post] Last month, as part of my Churchill Fellowship travels, I met Viola Zürcher, the leader of a German forest kindergarten (strictly speaking a waldkindergrippe or forest crèche, which takes children aged under three). Her setting runs five days a week in a wooded area on the edge of the city of Freiburg. Like other similar settings, it has a small, temporary hut building as an indoor base.
The visit was meant to be a brief social call, arranged by Freiburg residents and play advocates Peter Höfflin and Ellen Weaver (my tour-guides-cum-translators for the day). But the conversation took an unexpected turn.
Recently my work has had a strong focus on the built environment: how the decisions and actions of planners, highway engineers, designers and others shape children’s lives. Which has meant that the other side of my work – connecting with educators, playworkers and others who work directly with children – has taken a back seat.
But last weekend at the Natural Phenomena conference in Whangarei, New Zealand, the educators were to the fore. And it reminded me that there’s nothing quite like hanging out with people who are deeply committed to children, and deeply engaged in the sometimes messy, sometimes challenging, sometimes joyous art and practice of supporting children’s learning and play. So at the risk of seeming self-indulgent, I’d like to share some of the feelings and experiences of that remarkable time and place.
As a teacher or educator, the classroom is your domain. You are in charge. You set the rules and the learning goals. Your children are close at hand, and under a close watch.
Once you leave the classroom, things change. You have less control. Children have more space, literally and metaphorically. So there is a shift in responsibilities. And this can feel frightening.
So why would you consider taking learning outside? And why would you give any thought to what children learn through free play?