Book Club: Balanced and Barefoot, An in Depth Review

The book Balanced and Barefoot: How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident and Capable Children was written by Angela J. Hanscom and published in 2016. Hanscom is a pediatric occupational therapist and founder of the school Timbernook. TimberNook is a child-led, nature-based school located in various areas across the US, UK, and Canada, servicing children from one to twelve.

In her book, Hanscom described the difference between children and their development in previous generations as well as what changes have been made that are causing a lack of progress in children.

At the beginning of her book, Hanscom really drives home the point that children are not as strong as they used to be. Even going as far as saying there was some talk of lowering requirements for the physical fitness testing done in schools because kids were not able to meet the requirements. She attributes this to kids being increasingly sedentary. Schools are lowering their recess time and some are even cutting it out altogether. Children are required to sit still at a desk for upwards of six hours a day and then we are shocked when the children are not as strong as they used to be.

Another point that Hanscom makes in her book is that parents are putting certain "rules" in place for their children that might actually be harming them. For example, At spinning. Many adults will tell children that they need to stop spinning for fear of them getting sick and/or hurting themselves. What if I told you that stopping your children from spinning is actively hindering their brain development? Sounds kinda crazy right? I can remember at least one time as a child I was told to stop spinning as most of you probably can. But spinning is a schema.

Now, what is a schema? It's honestly pretty cool. A schema is when a child repeats a pattern of behavior to help their brain development. So what does spinning do for brain development? A lot actually. Spinning can help children with body awareness, balance, and even memory. It has been shown that children spin in the direction of their dominant hand is a great memory exercise. Spinning also requires the child to utilize so much of their brain that it will improve their bodily awareness, focus, muscle strength, and decision-making skills. Next time you see your children spin let them! They are learning!

Something else that Hanscom touches on heavily in her book is rules. She is not a fan! She gives the example of a child being inside and playing but second-guessing everything they do for fear of making a mess or breaking something. This can cause a child's creativity and imagination to be squashed. However, when they are outside they do not need to worry about moving sticks and rocks or setting up a fort with small branches and leaves. The outdoors gives children endless possibilities without the worry of mess.

Hanscom is also a supporter of unrestricted and unsupervised play. She cites as abduction being the biggest fear for parents. However, she says that abductions have been on the decline and the most amount of abductions are due to custody battles and not randomly grabbing a child off the street. Now this book was written in 2016, it is reported by the FBI that child abductions have gone down forty percent between 1997 and 2014. She describes the media as sensationalizing abductions rising and causing fear in parents when the abductions that are on the rise are normally between a parent with primary custody and a parent with little to no custody.

Playgrounds are another thing that Hanscom takes issue with within her book. She believes there are too many rules, especially at schools. Children are not allowed to spin on the swings or climb up the slides. Handsom argues that all this is doing is causing children to not get the developmental input or exercise they need but also causing behavioral problems. Previously I talked about how important spinning is for young children, and schools for fear of a child getting injured are banning spinning. Walking up a slide is another example of that. Walking up a slide helps children build their upper body strength. Children look at a playground and their imagination runs wild about all the things that they could do. Then the teachers/adults come in and the children get in trouble for not using the equipment in the way that that deem fit. This squashes the children's imagination and creativity. It essentially uses their developmental needs against them and then punishes them for seeking out the stimuli needed for their physical and cognitive development. Then labels them as having behavioral problems. It is a continuous cycle of setting children up for failure.

The book touches on many other things I did not add to this review. I think that this book is very informative and a wonderful read. I would recommend this book to parents and parents to be!

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