When we were children, we spent most of our time outdoors. We took risks during play; getting dirty, climbing trees, and exploring with our adventurous friends. What’s different today is the degree to which children have an opportunity to express and pursue their interests in play. When was the last time you saw a child make mud pies or climb a tree like we did when we were kids? Children thrive in these environments where they are given the opportunity. Children need to climb, create dens and places to hide in, create hierarchies, and worlds of their own. They are explorers, adventurers, and super-imaginative. It is up to us to provide these kinds of opportunities for them to experience adventure play and open-ended exploration.
Most parents reaction to the idea of risk is what sometimes holds back a child’s creativity and imagination; this is what they need to develop problem solving skills, responsibility and self-confidence. We all want our children to be safe, but if we are overprotective and try to cushion everything they do, how will they learn?
For healthy growth and development, children both need and want to take risks in order to explore their limits and venture into new experiences. An injury is distressing for a child and those who care for them, but the experience of minor injuries is a universal part of childhood and has a positive role in their development. Children need opportunities to:
- develop skills in negotiating their environment (including risks)
- learn how to use equipment safely and for its designed purpose
- develop coordination and orientation skills
- take acceptable risks, and
- learn about the consequences (positive/negative) of risk taking
As a parent, consider the following questions:
- When you were about the same age as your child, what risks did you take and what responsibilities did you have?
- What did you learn from those experiences?
- Later in life, how helpful were those lessons?
- How will your child learn the same life lessons?
“Play is a very personal experience. For some it is dolls and fights, for others it is climbing and skipping. It is what children do when adults are not there and what the children do when the adults that are there are perceived as honorary children.”
(Bob Hughes, Evolutionary play work and reflective analytic practice. 2001. p.11)
Upon reflection on time spent facilitating children’s play, I see my role not only as an educator, but also as a friend who is present to play, discover, create and imagine with them. It is my goal to be an “honorary child” in the eyes of the children I work with, as well as be a playmate and a friend that they can trust. I want to provide them with an environment where they can engage in managed risky play that is as safe as necessary, engaging, developmentally appropriate and beneficial. Children’s play shows what they understand of the world. Their play is real, true, and unfiltered. The wonderful thing about supporting children’s play is the power that we can give them to explore while being a supportive and interesting person in their environment.