Playing Dangerously

TulipTreePRESCHOOL BLOG, tuliptree1 Comment

by Katee

I have been in bed much of this week, nursing a cold, reading, and maybe eating some Halloween candy.  I read an article that I wanted to share with everyone about risky play and ‘Adventure Playgrounds’.  The article by Hanna Rosin at The Atlantic is titled , The Overprotected Kid.

Well the article is quite lengthy and I wanted to summarize some of the points that Rosin and the included researchers are making.  The article talks about playgrounds in the United States and when and why they’ve changed so dramatically since the playgrounds we were used to as children.  I used to run around alone with the neighbor children and when we went to the playground we would chicken fight on a balance beam full of splinters and chase each other on cement and slide down a steep metal slide too hot to wear shorts on.  Now that same playground looks very different, as I’m sure do many of the playgrounds that you adults remember visiting as children.

My daughter, Coco, at 5 years old, at Berkeley’s Adventure Playground

The article talks about injuries and lawsuits that led to such regulations that we have today, but goes on to explain research supporting the riskier play that was once more available to children in our country.  First of all, it seems that injuries have not really decreased much, and in some case, have increased. “David Ball, a professor of risk management at Middlesex University, has found some evidence that long-bone injuries, which are far more common than head injuries, are actually increasing. The best theory for that is “risk compensation”—kids don’t worry as much about falling on rubber, so they’re not as careful, and end up hurting themselves more often. The problem, says Ball, is that “we have come to think of accidents as preventable and not a natural part of life.”

Further, we are sending a different message these days to children by protecting them from all dangerous play. Rosin says, “Tim Gill, the author of No Fear, a critique of our risk-averse society. ‘Now our working assumption is that children cannot be trusted to find their way around tricky physical or social and emotional situations.'”  We are sending children a message through constant safety-netting that we do not trust them.  Maybe we actually feel like we don’t trust the slide, but children can get the message that we do not trust them to deal with a tricky situation.Image result for adventure playground

In the UK and in a few places in the US, there are playgrounds called “Adventure Playgrounds”.  They began after WWII by Lady Allen in the UK. This video is a great tutorial on how and why they began and a peek at what they might be like.  They look like junkyards taken over in a sort of Lord of the Flies style.  Children are supported in taking risks there- using real tools to construct, handling splintered wood, maybe even lighting fires.  If you are ever in Berkeley, CA, I highly recommend taking your child to the Adventure Playground there!

My favorite take-away from this article is a great list of needs for children.  Look at risky play as a sensorial need that children are seeking out. “Ellen Sandseter, a professor of early-childhood education at Queen Maud University College in Trondheim“Children’s Risky Play From an Evolutionary Perspective: The Anti-Phobic Effects of Thrilling Experiences.”Children, she concluded, have a sensory need to taste danger and excitement; this doesn’t mean that what they do has to actually be dangerous, only that they feel they are taking a great risk. That scares them, but then they overcome the fear. In the paper, Sandseter identifies six kinds of risky play: (1) Exploring heights, or getting the “bird’s perspective,” as she calls it—“high enough to evoke the sensation of fear.” (2) Handling dangerous tools—using sharp scissors or knives, or heavy hammers that at first seem unmanageable but that kids learn to master. (3) Being near dangerous elements—playing near vast bodies of water, or near a fire, so kids are aware that there is danger nearby. (4) Rough-and-tumble play—wrestling, play-fighting—so kids learn to negotiate aggression and cooperation. (5) Speed—cycling or skiing at a pace that feels too fast. (6) Exploring on one’s own.”

At Tulip Tree we have tighter regulations than an adventure playground.  We try to balance risky play with reasonable-for-school danger.  We allow the children to climb high, to use real hammers and nails, to wrestle, and to play with space to not feel watched over their shoulder at all times.

How do you give your child[ren] dangerous play?



One Comment on “Playing Dangerously”

  1. Thanks for this post, Katee. I remember coming across this article a few years back and learning a lot about what I had been communicating to Kira through my anxiety about her physical exploration, with my amorphous “be careful”s. I was almost apoplectic when I brought her to Tulip Tree’s commons at the tender age of 2, seeing ragged materials and wobbly stumps around her. Luckily, I could learn from you teachers about when and how to intervene when something was actually hazardous, and when and how to keep my distance the rest of the time. Now as a kindergartener, Kira is wonderfully competent and confident in her physical skills, and her brother has followed in her footsteps, thanks to this perspective you are talking about that I learned from Tulip Tree. Thanks for all you do!

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