Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Playing Where Danger Lurks

As you know, we feel very strongly about the importance of play in a child's healthy development. It may come as no surprise that because this is Oregon, we play outside every time it's dry and sometimes even if it's raining. Right now we've been enjoying some pretty awesome weather and the kids have been outside most afternoons. We practice our writing skills using sidewalk chalk. We practice our math skills by chanting the multiplication tables or addition facts while tossing a catching beanbags. We skip rope, play jacks, play with a hula hoop.

Of course the kids are awesome about coming up with all types of creative play. They've made their own obstacle courses. The made an exploding volcano with mud (and vinegar and baking soda) and many of the plastic dinosaurs perished during the eruption. The play structure has been a fort, a look out post and a ship.

Yesterday, they took the jump rope and would let down the slide. One child would grab hold and two children up on the structure would pull and pull until they managed to pull the child on the bottom of the slide all the way up. They then took turns and played this way for over an hour!

At first glance, I almost put a stop to it. In my mind I could just picture all the dangers and accidents waiting to happen. After all, we are talking about school aged kids, a slide and a rope. It's a recipe for disaster. The rope burns, accidental strangulation, accidental falls from the top of the structure were all vivid in my mind's eye. Did I mention the rope has wooden handles and each time they flung it down the slide it came oh so close to taking out an eye? All these worst case scenarios where playing out in my head. Then I realized I WAS RIGHT THERE! The most serious thing that could happen was the someone would get a rope burn or get hit with the wooden handle. I stopped them for just a second and point out these dangers, reminded them to be safe and let them continue playing. I'm so glad I did.

Later they each talked about who the strongest kid was, who was the fastest coming up the slide, who did get a little rope burn and how they knew after that to let go immediately. They spoke excitedly and quickly among themselves, sharing information, deciding that that was an awesome game, making plans for improvements and they unanimously decided they would play again today.

I learned that danger lurks around every corner. I can make that the focus and try to protect kids from every possible scenario and kick myself when I miss something and they get hurt. I can choose to focus on the learning, point out the dangers, remind them to be safe and let them figure it out. I think the latter makes for better adults in the long run.