Risky Play in Toddlerhood

My 16mo nephew has been staying with us since last Thursday, and man that kid is so much fun!  The best part is watching him learn every single moment, he soaks up everything like a sponge.  You can practically hear his little mind ‘SLUUUURP!’  

Taking ECE in college, and working in childcare for my whole adult life has lead me to being very interested in development and how the ‘young mind’ works!  I’m not convinced that one particular ‘method’ is better than another when it comes to encouraging learning in the early years, but it can be a lot of fun incorporating and ‘testing’ out some ideas on this little guy.

Something that I have really been loving lately is the concept of ‘Risky Play’.  I briefly touched on it when I wrote my post about the Nature Summit I attended last fall (click here to read it again), and finally I am getting around to the post I promised that goes a little more in depth!

comfort zone

Risky Play to me, are activities that have elements of risk generally restricted by adults to “protect” children from physical harm.  Including play with great heights, play with high speed, play near dangerous elements, play with harmful tools, rough‐and‐tumble play, and play where the children can disappear or get lost.  Now obviously it will be some time before our toddler nephew, or our own little baby can really participate in all of these risky behaviours, but there are little things that I can change now to allow for it in the future!

An article in a local newspaper this morning rekindled my interest in risky play.  It talked about playgrounds and how they’ve changed since the times when you or I were children.  It also brought up that the discussion of risky play has moved front and center, but fear of legal action has prevented most from making any real changes.

It’s pretty sad that we live in such a culture that simply allowing children to learn through exploration and testing themselves, has been all but outlawed.  I may be in the minority, although I don’t believe that I am, my belief is that a child sitting indoors is at risk of far more harm than a broken arm!  How did we become such an ‘at fault’ society?

The nice thing is I don’t expect to be sued by family (although you never know 🙂 ), and I don’t plan on suing myself, so when possible I do encourage risky behaviours with my nephew, and plan to do the same with Baby Bumpkin.

Even under 1 1/2 years old our nephew behaves responsibly when given ‘real tools’.  For example one of my own little experiments was to watch him eat with his plastic fork for 2 meals (lunch and supper) He would swing his arms wildly and often toss the fork to the ground, or worse yet scratch on my table!!!  I decided to ‘risk’ it, and my table, by giving him one of our real forks the next few meals!  I was actually pretty shocked to see his behaviour change with the possession of a real fork!  He still had difficulty stabbing his food and getting it to his mouth, but he was much more focused, and respectful of our furniture.  He didn’t bop himself on the head with it, and when he was done he placed it gently beside his plate like he’s seen Hubby Bumpkin and I do. He obviously was ready to use a real fork, so why the hesitation to let him try it?  Was it really benefitting him to only eat with plastic ‘safe’ utensils?

As our nephew and Baby Bumpkin grow I’m excited to introduce new and exciting ideas into their play.  Using real tools (hammers, nails and saws even!) cooking food over a campfire (that they can poke with sticks!), climbing trees, and running, jumping and *gasp* falling and failing!

I can’t think of a better way to learn!  Looking out the window at our property I see risks everywhere, but I can’t help but think, when I, as an adult, step out of my comfort zone, that’s really where the magic happens!

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