Risk and Play

As a kid I remember how much fun I had exploring the partially built houses in our development. After the construction workers left for the day my best friend and I would climb over boards and cinder blocks to play house. Around that time my younger brothers and their friends would go on “hikes” through the fields and and along the railroad tracks next to the river. They were just little kids but they came home with stories of snakes and such. My husband tells me about the how he wandered the city at age ten, alone.

The Land is a playground unlike any other. Located in North Wales, this patch of land looks like it could be a trash heap. With piles of tires, old mattresses, puddles, and wooden pallets it is heaven to the exploring child. How things have changed that in this day of micromanaging our children, we have to build such a lot where children are free to engage in risky play.

Peter Gray, author of the blog “Freedom to Learn” has written extensively about risky play. He says we adults do a great disservice to children by managing their play.

We deprive children of free, risky play, ostensibly to protect them from danger, but in the process we set them up for mental breakdowns.  Children are designed by nature to teach themselves emotional resilience by playing in risky, emotion-inducing ways.  In the long run, we endanger them far more by preventing such play than by allowing it. And, we deprive them of fun.

Ellen Sandseter, a professor of early-childhood education at Queen Maud University College in Trondheim identifies the most important element of risky play is “exploring alone.” As adults we can recapture that sense of adventure by taking on our own projects.

I don’t think I’ll be exploring any construction sites, but I can pick out a new box of charcoal and a big pad of newsprint. I can scribble or copy or draw from life. It can get messy. Is it risky? Sure it is…. but that’s the topic of another blog post.