Keeping our children safe is one of our primary tasks as parents. It can be terrifying watching our children branch out into the big world and the risks associated with that. So how do we balance keeping our children safe, while giving them the skills they need to meet challenges, develop resilience and discover who they are as individual people?
The rise of risky play…..
One of my most treasured childhood memories is of climbing trees with my younger siblings. I would climb to the highest point possible just to see what the world looked like from up there! The thrill and excitement has stayed with me my whole life. I felt invincible, like I could do anything. The last 20 years or so has seen a drastic loss in this type of independent, risky play and a rise in childhood issues; risky play provides children with the mental and physical feedback they need to make connections for proper growth and development.
Something I have noticed when giving my children opportunity for risky and challenging play, is that children are remarkably sure-footed and clever! They learn quickly to avoid injury; where to place their feet when climbing over a rock, where to grip when swinging on a monkey bar, how to land to prevent hurting themselves. There are bound to be a few bumps along the way, but children tend to challenge themselves in manageable ways, until they feel capable enough to move onto their next challenge!
What happens if we miss this kind of play? Increased chances of injury due to not developing body awareness and an understanding of their capabilities and limitations. Missing out on essential connections in the brain that develop complex thinking and movement. Missing the strengthening of muscles, bones and ligaments needed for proper growth. Not developing problem solving, risk assessment and spatial awareness skills. Missing out on exposure to the outdoors, nature, social opportunities and self awareness that risky play encourages.
So, where do you start? Start where your child is at. Introduce babies and toddlers to uneven surfaces; grass, sand, rocks, leaves. Let them crawl, toddle and investigate. As they grow, logs to climb, rocks to scramble over, puddles to jump in. Progress to balancing, tree climbing, bike riding, hiking, monkey bars, rope swings and skateboarding.
Children are naturally inclined to move their bodies and try new things. Risk and challenge is essential to development and growth. Provide space, time and opportunity, be available, and watch them go!