Risk it, or not, empower the child

As children grow older, risky play is crucial to the development of their decision making abilities.

Managing risk in childhood activities can be subjective and, as a parent or guardian, only you will know what is appropriate for you and your family.

I would like to help you with some practical tips for reducing risk with children during outdoor play as well as some advice on how to foster growth while managing risk during outdoor activities among similar age groups. Risky play in childhood gives them a feeling of excitement.

When children are faced with a 'risky' situation the challenge themselves in new ways, they form new movement patterns, new thoughts and their perceptions of their ability to execute a task successfully is challenged. This ties in with our challenge based approach to skill development at Trail Kids. We don't breakdown skills one by one. We encourage children the freedom to move, expose them to different situations that might bring about the perception of risk, while at the same time managing that risk by providing them with enough early exposure to risky situations and ensuring they develop a warehouse of skills capable to deal with the each situation, even when their perception of the situation is they can't achieve it. It may take few attempts for a child to move past the challenge but in time they usually all do.

Perception is key. How we as adults perceive a situation and how children perceive are 2 completely different scenarios.

By challenging their perception in such a way it strengthens their muscles, develops new motor patterns in their nervous system, enhances their balance and further develops their cognitive development.

What exactly is risky play?

Several situations exist and leading experts have identified these as they key elements

1. Heights

2. Rapid Speeds

3. Dangerous Tools

4. Dangerous Elements

5. Rough and tumble

6. Disappearing/Getting Lost

1. Heights

Climbing a tree is a great example of kids learning how to manage risk. They have an idea of what their body is capable of, at times push their limits and perceive they are unable to get down safely.

Children climbing a tree

Children climbing a rock

2. Rapid Speeds

There's nothing more exhilarating than running downhill at speed! It sends endorphins through the body and usually a look of delight mixed with anticipation in a kids face as they maintain their balance

Child running fast downhill

Child sliding fast downhill

3. Dangerous Tools

Depending on your culture, children can learn to use bow and arrows/knives/hammers... all sorts of tools that in some settings are dangerous. At an early age it's important for children to learn how to manage these tools safely and with care. While with some eyes it maybe risky, to others its childhood development.

Children building a fort

4. Dangerous Elements

Take walk near the edge, jump a stream, slide a steep slope, play with sticks... These types of activities can help to associate boundaries and limitations with their capabilities, successfully risk assessing each situation unknownst to themselves.

Children crossing a brook

5. Rough and Tumble

Kids love to play fight, catch or be caught... Games such as dodgeball and chasing are great examples of kids exhibiting this type of behaviour.

Children playing chasing

6. Disappearing/Getting Lost

Kids love nothing more than the feeling of escaping and hiding! By creating clear and safe boundaries games such as capture the flag, hide and seek, tip the can scavenger hunts, orienteering, treasure hunts, capture the flag - dodgeball style are all key aspects of Trail Kids sessions.

Children taking part in a scavenger hunt

I realise that risky play is not for every family but from my 15 years experience working with children in both Trail Kids and a tennis setting, I have seen many more benefits than disadvantages of risky play. Children come alive when they finally achieve something they were too afraid to try. It's reasons such as these I established Trail Kids. We need our children to grow and be a better generation than what we will leave behind.

- Kevin

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