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.
On Sunday, February 9th we gathered up all of our art supplies and arranged them on the dining room table. Aerie came with Juniper, Annie brought over Boone, Julie came with Bailey. Ruby worked incessantly on one single valentine while everybody else worked on many. Aerie reminded us of a term in art – horror vacui – an artistic style where all empty space is filled. Here is Ruby’s horro vacui valentine. She gave it to Juniper.
I know that the readers of this blog are few. And I know that the few are not close. But… Next Friday and Saturday is the first Children at Play Conference at Bernheim (near Louisville Kentucky). I’ve been pulling the larger Children at Play Initiative that this conference kicks off for over a year. This is the start of an on-going effort to reinvent the universe of outdoor play spaces in my region. I know, in my bones, that this community will become a hot-spot for the most amazing outdoor play environments to be found. With a bit of help we will simply make it so. If you want to find out more about the upcoming conference simply click HERE.
The other morning I was having breakfast with my five-year old when she said “I can’t wait for the weekend.” It was a Monday. I asked her what she especially liked about weekends. She thought things over for about half a minute while she was eating her oatmeal. Her response…”Cause on weekends I can eat lunch slowly.” I think, ultimately, that we are doing our children a disservice by over scheduling and tightly cramming their days with “time on task.” What is our ultimate goal with children? This kind of industrialized education will kill us. I agree with you my daughter…let’s eat slowly today.
Today the Portland Plays group pulled off an amazing day of play that included children in the visioning and planning for a playground that will help start the process of breaking the mold of play environments in our community. The people that pulled this day together should be really proud of what they did. The kids had a ball. When I told Ruby it was time to leave she almost cried. We can’t wait to help move this forward. Here’s just a very few pictures. I took hundreds (yes hundreds) but these few give you a sense of the day. There will be a conference at Bernheim this October 4th and 5th that focuses on creating this kind of play environment. Click HERE for details. If we can keep doing what the Portland Plays group did today our community will change for the better.
I’m not sure where all of this comes from, but Ruby has been into acting out the birth of Christ of late. Here she is in the role of Angel while Erin plays the role of the Virgin Mary. Jesus is plastic.