“You didn’t eat enough dirt as a kid.”
These words were said to me after I caught my third cold in a month (the flu-pocalypse was strong this winter). The idea of exposing ourselves to all those icky germs is pretty taboo nowadays, but it’s necessary to build a strong immune system (within reason, of course). Just like germs help build our immune system, experiences build our risk-management skills, which is why risky play can be so important.
Risky play is all about children exploring and trying new things; they experiment with their environment and learn from the results. Kids are full of curiosity and while we may know the outcome of their next endeavour, they need to learn from their mistakes. As a kid, I used to take my bike to the very top of a large hill and bike down, picking up quite a bit of speed. My parents told me to slow down, but I never listened until I hit a pothole and literally ate dirt (though apparently not enough *coughcough*). My parents cleaned up my scraped elbow and knee, and I learned to slow down.
The Power of Play documentary breaks down the benefits of risky play and how you can incorporate it into your childcare centre. Risky play encourages a child’s confidence as they learn about their capabilities, teaches resilience and, of course, risk-management skills.
Maria Brussoni, a professor at the University of British Columbia and BC Children’s Hospital, studied how nature play meets risky play, using natural elements to encourage development and growth. Brussoni introduced “nature and challenging play opportunities” to the outdoor environment of two childcare centres. The early childhood educators observed increased focus, social skills, self-regulation, self-confidence and more benefits in the children.
Brussoni recommends a 17-second rule. If you’re worried a situation is too risky, give it a moment – 17 seconds to be exact – and see how the children handle the situation. You and the children will discover what they’re capable of and they learn risk-management skills.
Through Brussoni’s research, we can understand how important outdoor play, coupled with risky play, is for a child’s development. A 2017 survey conducted across Canada concluded that children spend considerably more time indoors than they do outside – almost three times as much. There’s a lot of factors for this, including weather, the pressure to put kids into organized and structured activities and the ever-prevalent lure of screens. The same survey found that 35% of children said they prefer screen time to play outside.
So how can you incorporate risky play into your centre? Think of risky play as the loose parts of the outdoors. There’s only so much a child can do with a slide or swing, but the elements of nature are limitless. Allow children to use their imagination and go a little wild. Maybe they’ll climb a tree? Or sword fight with sticks? (Even writing that my brain was screaming, “You’ll poke your eye out!”)
Risky play may result in some bumps and scrapes, but its benefits are so important for children developing into well-rounded people, that the pros outweigh the risks. Besides, we’ll be ready with the alcohol wipes to help clean them up after their next adventure.