Risky Play Strengthens Mindfulness and Problem-Solving

Jumping off boulders, climbing trees and playing with sticks.

Many of us have fond childhood memories of taking risks while playing outdoors.
Even though there were injuries along the way, there was great satisfaction in trying a new challenge: first failing and eventually succeeding.

When we step back and allow children to take risks we are demonstrating trust in their judgement. We are valuing the child as strong, capable and resilient. These are some of the core values of the Reggio Emilia approach. I include these values in much of my work with children.

Playing at ‘Big Rock’

Our Early Years group (Ages 3-5) play outside every day, in all weather, for the majority of their day. The children are well prepared for outdoor learning in their Essential Outdoor Gear.

One of our regular outdoor play spaces is a forested area in which sits a fairly large boulder. The children named this space ‘Big Rock Forest’. Naming places in nature helps children create connections, they strive to protect and care for these places.

When our group visits the ‘Big Rock’, they challenge themselves to climb up, slide down and eventually jump off the boulder.

The children helped make rules for play :

1. There should only be one child on the boulder at a time.
2. An Adult will be close by.
3. On wet days, the boulder will be slippery so it is not safe to play on. The more time children spend outside in all weather, the more they are able to assess weather related risks.

Children collaborate along with adults to create rules when engaging in a new risky play activity. When children are part of the rule making process, they gain an understanding of why rules are set and are more willing to cooperate. However, they are unable to assess certain risks at this stage of their cognitive development, and require guidance to help develop the risk assessment process.

The children are encouraged to climb up and down the rock independently. This allows them to develop confidence using their large muscles and become familiar with their body in space.
Keeping close proximity allows adults to support a child who is experiencing concern. For example if jumping off feels too scary, we ask what other ways they can try? i.e. sitting down and sliding off. This helps children develop problem solving skills.

Playing at ‘Big Tree Forest’

Another of our outdoor spaces includes many beautiful tall trees. The children named this area ‘Big Tree Forest’. Children climb the trees and swing from the branches.

If a child has concerns about how to climb the tree or get down, we offer guiding questions such as “Where could you put your foot next?”

Having a secure attachment to the adults guiding them is key for children to feel confident exploring risky play.

Another area of risky play is stick play. We trust children to use sticks of many different sizes. Sticks become magic wands, tools and weapons. Branches are hauled and lifted to build shelters.

We discuss being mindful with sticks; paying attention to the ends of the stick, the length of the stick and the stick’s proximity to peers.

If a child is not managing to use the stick safely, ask her to try again later.

Children should have guidance in this play to help them practice mindfulness and self regulation.

Stick play in our Early Years group has led to some interesting project work such as ‘Stick man’ and ‘It’s not a stick’
The Reggio Emilia philosophy guides children’s learning based on their interests. Responding to these interests leads to project work’.

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