Children at pre-school are not able to build muscular strength and dexterity due to fears about them hurting themselves, according to Ofsted’s annual report.
According to some cases, children are not allowed to climb frames or be taken on days out because of the fear of consequences.
With minimal physical activity, children can have difficulties writing, and limiting time spent outside can restrict their vocabulary, a senior Ofsted official warned.
Health and safety rules can result in childcare providers “compromising on the substance of their provision” states the report which was published on Tuesday last week.
The report also says that the best childcare providers make sure that children have a chance to develop their muscular strength and dexterity, but added: “We also know that in other settings this good practice is stifled by undue concerns about the risk and safety of such activities.”
It also warns that without “some level of risk” children’s curiosity to learn and develop are unnoticed.
Chief Inspector of Ofsted, Amanda Spielman, states that worries about health and safety rules are extensive amongst early years providers.
“There’s a great deal of concern about children hurting themselves, concern about children having the lumps and bumps that we know are part of childhood,” she said to Independent.
Ofsted’s report asks settings to take on a “common sense approach” when it comes to managing risks.
Amanda Spielman added: “It is very important that children can develop physically, explore, do all those things that children need to do to test their physical boundaries.”
Gill Jones, who is also a member of Ofsted, stated that the parents also added to the fear culture. “Some private providers have to work very hard with parents because parents want their children to be really safe when they leave their baby and their toddler in a setting.”
Jones stated that: “Parents’ first concern is going to be their safety, but the provider has to ensure that children take risks. So a child climbing on a climbing frame has to be well supervised.
“And there has to be the right element of risk there. But some more nervous providers will not take that risk because they are frightened of the ramifications.
“They might not take children out on visits because of road safety. It is a fear thing.”
Ms Jones also added: “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.
“It is about the world around them and developing a language, an understanding; so being able to kick through the leaves and splash in puddles is really important. If children don’t get those experiences, they are not going to get the language that they need,” added Gill Jones regarding day trips.
Quality and Standards Manager for the Pre-school Learning Alliance, Melanie Pilcher, said: “Physical development should be an essential part of a quality, early education, and I’ve no doubt providers will be pleased to have today’s reassurance from Ofsted.
“It’s important providers are confident when explaining the benefits of ‘riskier’ activities, and today’s comments will hopefully also help parents themselves better understand what they can do to ensure children have the opportunities they need to develop physically.”
Ms Pilcher added: “There’s a danger that our risk-averse society can limit children’s sense of adventure. But risky-play is an important part of early learning because it helps children explore and develop physically, while also teaching them about boundaries and rules.
“What’s important for practitioners and parents to understand is how we manage that risk, so children are free to develop without having their horizons limited by perceived dangers or threats of litigation.”
Next year, Ofsted is planning to research physical development in young children.