Mark Woods: Family Matters

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My son’s nursery has a vice.

Not a dinner lady addicted to spread betting, or a hard drinking headmistress, no, a real metal steady as she goes, vice. And hammers and saws to go with it too.

Louis is three years old and therefore naturally drawn to anything sharp or otherwise lethally dangerous, so it’s easily his favourite bit of kit.

It’s also what sold the place to me too. Any group of childcare staff courageous enough to install that and be patient enough to fill in the three quarters of a million forms and assessments it must take to get the nod for it has my vote and confidence.

It’s a rarity today though, at least in this country. A mixture of regulation and fear of litigious parents seems to have removed an awful lot of risk and the responsibility that comes with it, from the world our children inhabit for much of Monday to Friday.Research from Norway has found that a more relaxed approach to risk-taking leads to less accidents not more, because it enables children to develop their skills in doing things which carry risk. Continually keeping children away from something because they might not do it properly and then exposing them to it cold when they are older, would rightly be seen as a recipe for disaster and failure in almost every other avenue of parenting. It’s because the stakes are perceived to be so high in the risky pursuits that’s led us to often neuter any and every danger we see. Climbing a tree for instance used to be a staple pastime of many a child - see a youngster up a decent sized Ash or Oak now and chances are the fire brigade won’t be far off either. Some of our European neighbours have managed to stem this tide of risk removal. It’s not unusual for five year olds in German forest kindergartens to be happily whittling a stick using a proper penknife or 3- and 4-year-olds in Sweden to cycle down the street, clamber on top of playhouse’s or even climb a tree or two.

What’s more the Swedes, as a result perhaps of giving their young the chance to encounter and be comfortable with risk, have some of the very lowest rates of child injury on the planet.

Twitter - @mark_r_woods