Monkey Bars and Writing: Ofsted finds risk-averse society is impacting children’s physical development

Jane Gleasure
Child Development

Early Years providers who are overly worried about Health and Safety are depriving children of a crucial part of preparing them for school - developing the muscular strength and dexterity to write.

According to the latest Annual Report from Ofsted, some settings are ‘compromising on the substance of their provision’ because of undue concerns about risks involved in particular activities. For example, some providers will not take children out on visits because of road safety, others do not provide climbing equipment because of the ramifications should a child get hurt.

At Little People, we take the safety of the children in our care very seriously, and any activity we plan - whether it be inside or outside the nurseries - is subject to a thorough risk assessment. Children are fully supervised and staff:child ratios are adhered to at all times.  As the report states ‘some level of risk is an essential part of childhood’ and the best nurseries will recognise this. We actively encourage our children to explore and be inquisitive, to learn and develop physically - all while promoting a safe environment for them to do so.

Every week, our preschool-age children have the opportunity to explore local parks and woodlands as part of Forest School. While on these visits, the children have the freedom to be active and are unrestricted in their learning - whether it be feeling the textures of plants, trees and flowers or watching small creatures like birds and bugs. But most importantly, they are able to take risks! Supervised risks of course, but we encourage them to challenge themselves, to build dens and to climb trees. All good things to improve their coordination, build their confidence and develop that muscular strength.

Because, for a child, the skill needed to hold a pencil and move it, requires strong control of the fine muscles in their fingers and forearms. They require opportunities for physical development, to specifically strengthen their arms and hands, so they will be better prepared to write.

Gill Jones, a member of Ofsted, says “A child that hasn’t had upper body strength built, who hasn’t done the monkey bars, will not have the physical strength to write. It is linked, so that is really important’’

So, as well as ensuring your child is safe in their setting, providers need to work with parents to also ensure children are reaching their full potential physically. If a nursery has a robust Health and Safety procedure in place, has well trained staff and the trust of parents, there is no reason the children shouldn’t be free to play and learn, wherever their sense of adventure takes them.