As a parent or caregiver you’ve undoubtedly felt that stomach lurching feeling when you witness your child engaging in an activity that you can see ending in tears.
However… Adventurous play, or ‘risky’ play, is an essential aspect of growing and learning, and something that – within limits, of course – it’s vital to let them do.
The difficult thing is to understand at what point do you draw the line at quite how much risk you allow? After all, no parent wants their child to hurt themselves. But remember those skinned knees and countless falls you had as a kid? Well, it’s vital that your little one is also allowed to go through those very same experiences.
So let’s take a look at adventurous play, the reasons behind it, and how you can ensure that it’s undertaken in the safest way possible, and therefore letting your child gain the benefits but, of course, without the chance of significant injury occurring.
What is adventurous play?
Adventurous play is identified as, ‘When the child’s skills exceed the challenges provided by the available equipment’ and can be grouped into six distinct categories.*
- Playing at height: An aspect sure to strike fear into the hearts of their parents, kids love climbing – be it a tree, rock, hill, climbing frame or whatever, they get a thrill from the activity itself and the view gained, but also the satisfaction of ‘Yes! I did it’.
- Going fast: Swinging, sliding, riding a bike, skateboard or undertaking an activity that allows them to go faster than they can on two legs.
- Harmful tools: Sticks, stones, bows and arrows, play guns and swords… Children gain gratification, not only from the trust in being allowed to handle them, but the thrill that if they don’t control them, injury could occur.
- Elemental dangers: Playing near fire, water, or steep drops has an unmistakable draw to the thrill that there’s an element of danger in their play.
- Rough and tumble play: All kids play fight, chase each other and wrestle. While there is, indeed, a risk that this could easily cause a real injury, there’s also a vital element of the child learning skills to prevent this happening.
- Getting lost: Discovering a sense of independence and exploring the world outside of the comforts of the caregiver and/or friends brings with it a thrill of its own.
Why is it important?
Adventurous play (within reason) has many benefits, including that of teaching children how to regulate fear, anger and carry out unconscious risk assessments as they grow. For instance:
- Discover their limits: Through trying new things and testing their limits. By pushing boundaries, learning to assess their fear levels, control them and realise when to stop climbing so high or moving away from their parents, the child learns what is and isn’t an acceptable risk.
- Manage fear: By placing themselves in such manageable situations they learn to adapt their behaviours to overcome a situation, learning that fear is a necessary tool to be taken notice of, managed and conquered.
- Manage anger: In activities such as rough and tumble there’s always a danger that one accidently gets hurt for real. If this sparks anger as their response, then the child learns that the game will stop. If they want to continue, it’s necessary to control that anger and not lash out and therefore cause the fun to cease.
Such activates play a large role in helping to increase self-esteem, risk detection and handling, conflict resolution, learning from mistakes, independence, social skills and motor skills – in short, all of the positive attributes that are essential for children to learn as they grow.
How to safely encourage adventurous play
Of course, we’re not going to encourage kids to undertake truly risky pursuits that could cause serious injury. However, by allowing elements of adventurous play are vital for a child’s well-being.
- Allow young children to crawl around on different surfaces, such as mud, sand, carpet, watery places – all of which will allow their physical development to grow.
- Let your kids ride their bike or scooter on surfaces that, if they fall off, will smart a little. Those grazed knees are a badge of childhood, and one that instils those necessary risk assessments that’ll bode well throughout their life.
- Take advantage of rock climbing walls, rope courses and adventure parks, zip lines and other controlled environments that allow real fear to be experienced and overcome.
- Playing hide and seek to encourage those distance issues and how far a child is happy to move away from the safety of friends and parents.
- As they grow in confidence, allow them to climb trees, scale that rock, jump down from a (safe) height etc.
- Let them run, trip, skin their hands etc. These are vital learning elements that, once again, teach them self-regulating behaviours.
It appears that, sadly, the opportunity for adventurous play is on the decline in society – something that’s already showing serious repercussions, such as the increase in mental health issues.** The need to allow children to partake in such activates is crucial to their well-being, and is something all parents need to be aware of.
The expert staff at leading childcare centres, Nido Early Schools, are well-versed as to how to encourage age-related adventurous play within a controlled, safe environment. It’s just one of the many facets of how Nido is becoming the preferred choice for parents who desire the ultimate care for their charges, knowing they’re carrying on the good work they’re already doing at home.