Going outside is dangerous. There are bloodsucking insects. There are wild animals. There are trees that could fall over at any moment.
As adults, we have an instilled fear in us for the safety of our children and our students. We feel terrible and even guilty if they fall and hurt themselves, especially if the incident occurs outside. How are we going to explain to parents that their child was mauled by a piece of playground equipment? Or how we turned our head for just a second and the child fell? That would make us irresponsible.
Instead, we need to accept that there are risks involved with outdoor play. But are these risks “too risky”? Check out these statistics:
- The most common cause of accidental deaths for American children are car accidents. (Traffic Safety Facts, National Highway Safety Administration, 2008)
- Teens visit the emergency room more due to sports injuries than anything else. (Sports and Recreation Related Injuries: What’s the Problem?, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, February 23, 2001)
- Almost 90,000 American children are injured annually on stairways. (Hurt on the Stairs: A Child is Treated Every 6 Minutes in the U.S., msnbc, March 12, 2012 (reported from research by Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Columbus, OH)
So, based on those facts, are you going to ditch your car? Ban athletics from communities? Advocate for the building of more 1-story houses? Of course not. These risks are part of day to day life. We learn to deal with them and do things to minimize the dangers. Notice “minimize”, not “ELIMINATE”. When (not if) you take your children outside, you should watch them closely, but instead of immediately telling them “no” or “stop”, ask them “why” they are doing something? Use the time outside to observe their creativity and take note of their thinking processes. You might be surprised at what you find.
As schools limit outdoor play and nature education more and more, studies show that children with sensory deficits are on the increase. Angela Hanscom, a pediatric occupational therapist and found of TimberNook, says:
“[Children] need to climb, jump, run through the woods, pick up sticks, jump in mud puddles, and fall and get hurt on occasion. These are all natural and necessary experiences that will help develop a healthy sensory system — foundational to learning and accomplishing many of life’s goals.”
Check out this video featuring Griffin Longley, CEO of Nature Play WA. What do you think about the risks of letting children engage in free, unstructured outdoor play and learning?