In this day and age, the dangerous risks of play seem to outweigh the healthy risks of play. There is a growing concern that a “policy of fear” has reshaped how children play to an extent that they are missing out on vital learning. For whatever the reason may be, fear of injury, fear of lawsuits, budget restraints, outdoor play has been either reduced or controlled to such an extent that there is worry children are missing out on good opportunities to learn firsthand values such as resilience.
When I was in elementary school, I remember getting some of my first real scrapes and bruises from outdoor play activities. It was one of my first times riding a bike down a hill, and in a nervous fret I tumbled to the pavement, suffering big cuts and bruises along my forearms and legs. I was hurt and afraid to go to school the next day with all of my peers around me. Amid my crying and self-pity, the adult who was with me said quite simply that I don’t need to cry, accidents happen and my injuries would heal with time. Besides, he added that I had earned my first “strawberries” referring to the gashes on my forearms and that they were cool. Even though I was still hurt, I went to my next schoolday with some confident butterflies in my stomach and explaining how I got my “strawberries” with a smile on my face. There were a lot of oohs and aahs, but for most part my peers were more curious than anything, even sharing some of their own stories. I made out ok with my classmates, and within a few weeks the scabs had completely healed.
Now the moral of this story isn’t necessarily to make injuries cool or label them something like “strawberries”, but rather to instill confidence, learn from mistakes, rise from a fall and confront the challenges ahead of you or other children. Outdoor play offers a natural way to learn about ourselves, gain values and build character through invaluable experiences. The UK-based founder of Outdoor Play and Learning (Opal) Michael Follett believes that children learn through “primary, first hand experience,” and that, ” They need to fall over, they need to cut themselves, have bumps and bruises.”
Creativity, self-reliance, courage and resilience are just some of the values and healthy risks of play. Even though injuries do happen, not all are negative and can be productive for teaching lessons and developing children. That being said, it is important to reduce some risks, such as ensuring children at play apply enough sunscreen, stay hydrated, take breaks and dress appropriately for the outdoors. Once they are prepared, it is important to let them explore finally all on their own. Allowing children to play at their own risk allows them a window of independence, builds trust and opens new doors of creative opportunity and experience that can be valuable for the rest of their lives.