Children spend less time outdoors than prisoners
Irish children spend less time outdoors than prison inmates, an education conference has heard.
Early childhood education expert Dr Carmel Brennan said children nowadays were not given the opportunity to play outside as their parents and grandparents once did.
At the same time, prisoners are entitled to at least an hour of fresh air a day under the UN rights for prisoners. The average Irish child today gets less than that, the Early Childhood Ireland conference heard.
"There's no doubt that children are spending far more time indoors on electronic devices," Dr Brennan told The Irish Independent.
This can come at a considerable cost to a child's physical, mental and emotional development, she said.
Dr Brennan blamed the so-called "schoolification" of children's lives, in which they are placed under pressure to obtain high Leaving Cert results.
She said the cost to children's physical and mental health can be catastrophic. "It's horrifying," she said.
Dr Brennan pointed to recent studies of children in China, which show that some children suffer emotional disorders from having been placed under extreme pressure to achieve academic success. "They're paying the price through stress and emotional disorders," she said.
Dr Brennan said it was crucial for a child's happiness and successful development to be allowed to run around outside.
"To be outdoors in the soil and out in the weather is critical to their wellbeing, but many young children don't even get to be outdoors for an hour a day," she said.
Part of the problem was due to the reluctance of many parents and childminders to expose children to the elements out of fear they'll get sick, she said.
There was also the fear of potential risks such as traffic and strangers approaching them, she said. Yet this constant over-supervision of children was not doing them any favours, she added.
"They're always under the gaze of an adult," she said. "But we are advocating for the freedom of children to be outdoors with their friends. Children need to spend more time outdoors and in nature."
The two-day conference, which finished on Saturday, also heard that preschools may not be able to keep up with demand for a second free preschool year announced in last year's Budget due to lack of spaces.
Teresa Heeney, CEO of Early Childhood Ireland, warned that "too many families will be unable to secure that second free preschool year in their local service, or if they can find a place, it won't be in their service of choice or at the time they prefer".
Ms Heeney also criticised the government for not restoring the cut in the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) capitation fee in the last Budget and called for the enhancement of capitation to a "genuinely sustainable level".
"Capitation levels directly impact on the low salary levels in this sector, with the average rate of pay at €10.27 per hour," she said. "So while we are talking about how play is fundamental for a child's development, pay is fundamental for childcare professional. Without decent salaries we will have no sector."