When we breakdown our conditioned exterior and our societal standards we find our inner child. Within each of us there’s the need to wander, an innate curiosity, the desire to take a risk. As we age, we’re told to hide the pieces of ourselves that don’t fit in with the rest of society. We make ourselves smaller and forget our natural selves. As parents and educators, it our job to make sure that our children can be the most authentic and natural versions of themselves. This is how we honor our children.
There are several important contributors when it comes to early childhood development. These include sensory development, cognitive skills, and risky or adventurous play. Risky play goes beyond simple outdoor play. It’s allowing children the freedom to take risks in an environment that is observed by the educator or parent. There is no emanate danger in the environment but there is risk. Danger can be unknown whereas a risk is thought through and calculated. According to a CBC article by Brittany Toole, “risky play in early childhood education can help develop a child’s self-confidence, resilience, executive functioning abilities and even risk-management skills.”
When we honor the natural form of play, we are allowing children to take risks. Risky play is an innate form of play that lives in all of us. We are born with the need to discover and grow. When we step back, observe, record, and reflect on play, we can become aware of the depth of intention and planning that children bring into their world. When we give the time, space, and materials, we do not need to give instructions or guidance. We discover the true child.
During play, children are constantly reflecting. They are making decisions for themselves and assessing their impulses. When we allow children freedom in outdoor play, we are able to watch their natural capabilities unfold. They have the freedom to take something and make it into something completely new. The children are able to determine their surroundings and problem solve. They can test their heights and set boundaries, and as parents or educators, we can create an environment where we are able to observe while allowing children the freedom to take risks.
In the book, No Fear: Growing Up in a Risk Averse Society, Tim Gill argues that “children’s development is being undermined by the current culture of risk avoidance.”
Gill has been advocating for a balance approach to risky play for over 20 years. He writes, “There’s no denying that for parents, getting the balance right between freedom and safety is harder than it was. Some are so worried about things going wrong – and about being judged and found wanting by their peers – that they over-compensate and overprotect their children. The problem is that making things too safe can starve children of the very experiences that best help them learn how to keep themselves safe and healthy. As rising numbers of children and teenagers struggle with emotional and social problems it is all the more important to get this balance right.”
Risky or adventurous play can look like a variety of natural factors:
- Playing with heights such as climbing trees or structures.
- Playing with speeds such as tag or riding a bike.
- Playing with tools or building
- Playing near elements, such as water or mud
- Playing with a chance of getting lost, such as hide and seek
- Rough play, such as chasing, tumbling or play fighting.
According to an article from the Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning, “outdoor risky play provides developmental and health benefits for children, such as risk-assessment skills, increased physical activity and well-being and promoting social competencies and resilience.”
Risk is a normal part of our everyday lives. There can be risk to a lot of normal tasks, but we have the ability to assess it and make the right decision. For children, risk can also be a normal part of play. The better able they are to assess risk in their natural state of play, the better able they are to develop important decision-making skills, social skills, and other developmental benefits.
When we provide a safe environment for our children to have freedom in play, the authentic child unfolds. Seeking risk helps children test their strength and find their limits. They are claiming their truth and waking the wonder.