Thinking back to my own childhood, I remember many days of being outside from sun up until being called back inside for dinner, covered in dirt, scrapes and bruises. Play involved climbing trees, making dams in the stream with the neighbourhood kids and sliding down the river stop banks on pieces of cardboard. All these activities challenged me physically and emotionally and had an element of risk. However, the pride and sense of achievement that I had when I was able to climb to the top of the tree and back down again, or sliding down the stop bank without crashing half way down made it a great day!
Unfortunately, in today’s risk adverse and litigious society, physical exploration and playful risk taking is becoming more difficult for children to participate in. We tend to wrap our children up in cotton wool so that they are not exposed to any forms of danger. In doing so, we are further distancing them from the natural world (and all connectivity with Earth itself!) and ‘protecting’ them indoors or in highly regulated and secured playgrounds that lack adventure, wonder and stimulation. If you promise yourself that you’ll never let anything happen to your child, then you will get just that – NOTHING WILL EVER HAPPEN TO YOUR CHILD – nothing bad, and perhaps also nothing good. Growing and learning come with aspects of risk, which is why we encourage “being OK with risky play”™. Note that we do not mean “dangerous play”, as this can often be the result of an ill-prepared, poorly thought through, impulsive, out of control, careless and even negligent scenario.
Allowing children to participate in healthy risk-taking activities is something we as adults need to be objective about. We need to weigh up what is seen as real risk verses the perceived risk and what the potential benefits of that activity maybe.
- your child wants to ride their scooter or trike down a ramp at the skate park;
- your child has excellent gross motor skills and is a good problem-solver;
- the skate park has levels of ramps and tracks, and your child has a helmet;
- the risks of riding down a lower slope to begin with are relatively small, yet the benefit your child will gain from confidence and independence is high.
This would be considered a healthy risk or the risk benefit from the activity. You can decide what ramp your child starts on and have some stipulations; ensuring that you are nearby, only using the lower ramps and making sure no other children are nearby.