Give the photo below a moment of your mind. What’s your gut reaction to this set up as an appropriate place for children to play? Is it safe? Dangerous? Appropriate for children? Inappropriate? What would you need to know to say “Yes!” if your child asked you if they could play here?
As has ever been the case, we live world surrounded by inherent risk. The fact we exist for more than a moment in time is beyond all odds. And yet we do. It was not long ago that we humans began the interesting concept of betting against ourselves by purchasing insurance. Essentially, with insurance, we are betting we will hurt ourselves. So we pay money to people we don’t even know that are betting we won’t. The winner is the entity that spends the least amount of money on dealing with the results WHEN we do get hurt. Rare is the person among us that has never been injured. I am not advocating for getting hurt. In fact, quite the opposite. Here is what I AM advocating for. I would like us to consider that one way to reduce the odds that any child gets badly injured just might be letting them experience lots of little hurts. Sounds like an odd argument, I’ll give you that. Here’s my argument: A) The world is full of risk. B) Every child encounters risk daily, with or without us present. C) I want my child to be able to identify and manage the risk she encounters. D) Children learn best through real experiences and repeated practice. E) Careful and reasoned exposure to risk allows children to practice identifying and navigating risk on their own. F) The cost of occasional bumps and bruises returns the benefit of experience that reduces bigger bumps and bruises down the road. This is not my idea alone. In fact, click HERE to go to a really good article on risk from the Children at Nature Network by Ken Finch.
But there are other payoffs to allowing children to play in the type of environment pictured above. This environment was created by children. In the process they learned physics, group cooperation, geometry, the properties of materials like wood, construction techniques, and much more. The picture below shows some of that learning in process. In a world where we have become almost pathologically averse to risk, we need to reverse that trend. Our safety depends on it. Just an opinion.