Foster carers, like all parents, will have bemoaned the lack of opportunities for social contact for their children during the lockdowns. The ubiquitous zoom lessons; an initially novel feature of homeschooling, in time served to emphasize the sense of isolation. Children are, after all, meant to be with other children. All human societies around the world recognize this, but they differ markedly in how they perceive the value of interactions between children – or even their purpose. Parents and foster carers here will have been shaped by their own childhood experiences of growing up. They will have been very different from the current generation. For most parents, the sight of children playing with their friends is a welcome one. It’s also the opportunity for some welcome parental downtime. Then, dutifully, foster carers and mums and dads have to see homework is done. But what if their children were actually getting more out of playing? A surprising if not disturbing question. And parents and foster carers, like most of us, could be forgiven for being suspicious about such an idea. Why? Because the entire educational establishment has for decades seen play as something children do when they are not sitting at desks learning. The educational system has shaped the life experiences, and ultimately the future prospects, of generations of children. For decades there has been a preoccupation with academic attainment to the exclusion of all else. This has been driven by the climate of fear affecting parents and their visceral horror of academic failure. The consequence has been wisdom has been replaced by the drive for learning. Parents and foster carers should pause at this point and think about an underlying irony that has blinded most of us – including legions of educational ‘experts’ – countries that have placed the emphasis on play are producing better academic results. And this has been the case for a considerable period: the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) has been highlighting how mediocre our ranking has long been compared to other countries. The problem is educational orthodoxies can be as powerful as political ones. There has not been a real debate: scant attention has been paid to how poorly we have compared to countries like Finland.
Parents, foster carers, and the rest of us are beginning to notice how little coverage there has been that focuses on the merits of our system measured against competitor nations. Perhaps there have just been too many inconvenient truths for an educational establishment mired in its own narrative. Most of us will recall the stirring political mantra “Education, Education, Education of a former prime minister. The problem with such mantras, is they are virtually indistinguishable from slogans. And we are living through times where sloganizing and sound bites are the current lingua franca of too many politicians and planners. They are dangerous because they have a seductive and simplistic mass appeal that inhibits thinking and proper rigour. Many think it’s probably why our political masters are so keen on them.
The pandemic has been a global tragedy and we are not out of the woods by any means. But there may be some silver linings. As a society, we sanction the investment of billions on an education system we are entitled to expect to deliver. And it hasn’t been. The coronavirus pandemic has made possible a moment of collective reset. The chance to reflect upon what education actually is, and if we don’t like what we see, the opportunity to engage in a drastic overhaul. Education experts; possibly sensing which way the wind is now blowing, are now raising the alarm over what has been described as the “scholarisation of childhood”. This, to many, will look like a damascene conversion. These experts are now worried that our children have lost opportunities in the school day for unstructured play. In the last few days, the British Children’s Play survey has reported youngsters now are having to with until they are older before their parents let them play on their own outside. Typically they are eleven years old where their parents were allowed out when two years younger. It’s also thought that they play less adventurously than previous generations. Compared to the past, children are experiencing a play deficit” Dr. Naomi Lott, based at Nottingham University, is an expert on the right to play. She is warning that –
“The loss of play is incredibly serious, it has such wide-ranging impacts on children. But because play is viewed as frivolous we forget all the benefits, which have a long-term effect on children and society as a whole.”
The school day is in danger of changing in ways that militate against play. Fostering service providers need to be alert to this as they can add their voices to the argument this is not in the interests of children. Covid has led to the idea that because children have fallen behind in their education, the day can be extended further eroding time that was once available for play. More importance is being stressed on homework – even in primary schools – this has insidious effects:
“Reduced opportunities for play and a heavy focus on structured/formal learning both at home and at school place unnecessary pressure on children and families. Parents can feel pressure for their children to perform and achieve, as can children, which in the long term can affect children’s sense of self, confidence and willingness to take risks.”
This is the view of Dr. Melernie Meheux, a senior educational psychologist. Such views are likely to be supported by Tim Gill, author and advocate for free play for children. His book “No Fear” argues for freer and riskier play. He says –
“No one is paying much attention to whether you are happy or healthy. They are just concerned about your grades. The almost prison-like oversight of children’s time is really worrying – and not just in school. Wherever you look, you can see that from the point of view of children and young people, their lives have become more and more overseen, with less time and space to call their own.”
The risk for parent and foster carers – and probably wider society – is becoming ensnared in the new narrative of ‘academic catch-up’ spawned by the pandemic. The ever-present collective panic that stalks parents over exam grades, will have been exacerbated by what has happened to children’s education over the last eighteen months. And this, understandably, can have the consequence of devaluing ideas about the value of play, or at least relegating them into the background where they have been for far too long. When children play they cannot help being creative: they are inhabiting an imaginary world without pre-imposed boundaries. Sir Ken Robinson was a visionary educationalist and as well as being an international advisor on education in the arts to governments here and abroad: “My contention is that creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status”, was his view. Robinson is in good company as Sigmund Freud thought play was the means by which children accomplish their first great cultural and psychological achievements, and that play enables them to express themselves. And should anyone still be doubting just how much play matters, the view of Albert Einstein was” “Play is the highest form of research.”
Rainbow Fostering is seeking more people interested in fostering. There has recently been a 3 percent rise in the number of children being placed in foster care. Sadly, every year there is a shortage of fostering homes. This year is no different – the figure now stands at slightly over 8,000 needed.
If you might be looking for a new career, fostering might suit you. It has much to offer: carers enjoy job flexibility – as well as the chance to work from home. Foster carers need to be highly committed to providing the best care and emotional support for vulnerable children. We support the ambitions of our foster carers by providing high-quality training and a wide choice of career opportunities. Rainbow Fostering has been rated ‘Outstanding in all areas’ by Ofsted – the guarantee of our commitment to you. And you can be confident that we will always do our best for you and your fostering family.
Where can I foster?
The children we are supporting are in London, Birmingham, Manchester – as well as parts of Hampshire. They are diverse and of all ages and backgrounds. We need fostering homes for teenagers, sibling groups, and children with complex needs. We also need to find foster homes for young mothers and their babies – parent and child fostering.
You do not need special skills or qualifications to foster. But you will need to have a spare room. Call us on 0330 311 2845 to find out more about our fostering careers. If you like the sound of what is on offer, we can start the application process by contacting you over Skype right now. It’s very straightforward – one of our friendly recruitment advisors will give you all the help you need. And as today we mark The International Day Against Homophobia, we want to stress how much we welcome applications to foster from our LGBT+ community. This week is the second of #fostercarefortnight #FCF21 which is all about recognizing the work, commitment & devotion of the nation’s foster carers to supporting vulnerable children & young people. #WhyWeCare
Our blog archive covers a great many fostering topics – and these are being added to all the time. To discover more about therapeutic foster care visit –
It remains advisable to check the latest advice and guidance to stay safe and well. For the latest information on coronavirus visit – https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/coronavirus
Rainbow keeping the focus on fostering.