Free play – It’s a risky adventure.

Have you ever watched a child under the age of three learn to do something new – like climb stairs, climb a slide, ride a moving toy?  Do you want to catch them before they fall or do you watch and encourage their efforts?  Actually, all you need to do is watch.  You’ll learn a lot about the child’s personality and how they handle risk.  This can be expanded as the child grows.  Schools in Aukland were encouraged to get rid of playground rules and let children play with whatever was there.  The playground equipment they had needed to be replaced, but the current safety codes made the replacement too expensive.  They just removed the old stuff.  Instead of static playground equipment, there was a pit with old tires and lumber available.  The children made mud slides and played Bullrush – a running/tackling game of tag.  Bullrush had been banned in the 1980’s as too dangerous.  What has happened since reinstating it is that kids learn to make contact with each other, tackle each other, and take a hit without starting a fight.  They are more attentive in class.  They have seriously reduced the amount of bullying in school and everyone is happy. The students are not only better behaved and more attentive in class – they are happier at home. “But this wasn’t a playtime revolution, it was just a return to the days before health and safety policies came to rule.” That says a lot.  I’m starting to think that some of those Facebook posts about “if you walked to school and rode your bike without a helmet . . .” have some merit.  We have protected our children from so many things that they no longer know how to evaluate risks.  Learning how to ride a skateboard as fast as you can go and making ramps, etc. for them could translate into safer driving as a teenager.

Sometimes when you take a risk, IT DOESN’T WORK!  You have to fail sometimes in order to find the things that do work.  Every generation has to work things out for itself.  If you’re going to learn to ride a bike – you’re going to fall sometimes.  Apparently allowing children to take risks at play led to fewer playground accidents and more confidence in the classroom.  Who knew? Maybe playing “Red Rover” on the playground was one of the reasons I don’t remember any bullies at school.

We have wrapped our children in protective gear to the point that there is no consequence for failure.  As in many video games, they can fall over and over again and just keep playing.  I think this leads to risk taking without evaluating the consequences.  I certainly enjoy being able to use invulnerability in a Lego game to keep from dying and reach certain goals.  I actually get frustrated when I see a “game over” screen and have to replay my game.  I wonder what that says about my risk taking skills these days?  My son plays with a lot more skill than I do and he likes the games where you can die.  Of course, he doesn’t die very often, but he is much more aware of how close to the edge he can go than I am.

The US is such a litigious country that I don’t think schools can get rid of playground safety rules, but there are companies making movable playground blocks that kids can use to build their own creations.

I think these are a great idea that would lead to more creative, active play in our school yards.  Unfortunately, we are no longer allowed to let children get hurt as they play.  Let them learn how not to get hurt and see where it leads.