There are a slew of articles out in the world about children taking risks and “how dangerous” playgrounds are and blah blah blah. However, are we actually doing harm by safeguarding all the places that a child steps foot?
We need to understand the difference between “risk” and “hazard”. Risk is the “possibility that something bad or unpleasant will happen”*, while a hazard is “a source of danger.”*
Risk is something that is part of everyday life. We take a risk driving to work everyday. We take a risk eating certain foods. We even take a risk by sitting out in the sun too long. Children need the chance to assess risk and understand their limits.
Hazards are things we can avoid. We can drive the speed limit and practice defensive driving. We can refrain from eating foods that are harmful to us. We can limit our exposure to the sun. Even still, we make choices and assess whether certain hazards are worth the risk. So, where did you learn how to make those assessments? Did someone tell you or did you have to figure things out on your own? Most likely, you figured them out on your own.
As we continue to remove “unsafe” playground equipment and replace them with soft surfaces or easy-to-use structures, we give children a false sense of security. When we hear about these high statistics of children getting hurt in the playground, what do we automatically think? Playgrounds are dangerous. Playgrounds are a breeding ground for injuries. There must not be adequate supervision if a child is getting hurt. But really, what would prompt a child to take a bigger and potentially more dangerous risk when climbing on that slide and jumping off of it? Children are testing the limits of the equipment that they have been exposed to since before they could walk. That slide and those swings are very predictable. They are meant for one activity and once a child is bored with that activity, he or she needs to find a way to make it more exciting and challenging.
So, how can we facilitate this exciting and challenging environment for children? We can give them free play in the outdoors.
I’ve been reading this book by Angela Hanscom regarding the subject of active outdoor free play. She is a pediatric occupational therapist and the founder of TimberNook. She focuses a lot on the importance of sensory experiences for children and appropriate childhood development. Some thoughts from what I’ve read so far:
“In nature, children learn to take risks, overcome fears, make new friends, regulate emotions, and create imaginary worlds.
“More and more children are having difficulty with poor attention skills, controlling emotions, balance, decreased strength and endurance, increased aggression, and weakened immune systems.”
So what can you do? Hanscom gives some suggestions to foster appropriate play for children.
- Allow adequate time every day for children to play outdoors.
- Take frequent movement breaks throughout the day in classroom settings.
- Give children adequate time to play at recess.
- Allow children to move prior to going to school, such as helping with chores outside.
- Let them play outdoors when they get home from school for at least a few hours.
- Younger children don’t need to do organized sports or activities; they’ll get adequate exercise simply through play.
- Invite children to come over and play with your children outdoors for the day. Your children are likely to be more independent in their play with friends around.
- If you live in a neighborhood with other children, let your children go and play with friends.
- Let children take risks — even the youngest ones — such as jumping off a small rock or walking on the side of a curb.
- Instead of entertaining your children primarily through adult-led activities, inspire movement by using the environment (set up a rope swing outdoors, provide a bike and a basket, put a wagon outdoors). Let them take the lead on what they’d like to do.
- Most importantly, give your children the gift of time to move and play every day!
**Hanscom, A. J., & Louv, R. (2016). Balanced and barefoot: How unrestricted outdoor play makes for strong, confident, and capable children. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.
Hopefully, I’ve provided you with some food for thought. So, do some research. There are great articles and books out there and Angela’s book is a great place to start.
As always, THINK OUTSIDE and thanks for reading!