OBSERVATIONS FROM THE PLAYGROUND – Brian VanDongen, author of Play To Live
As a recreation professional, one of the (many) hats I wear is that of a youth sports league administrator. For eight Saturdays in the fall and the spring at one of the parks in town, there is the youth soccer league. There are leagues for Kindergarten, 1st and 2nd graders, and 3rd to 5th graders.
Right next to the soccer fields is a playground. When the soccer games end, the children line up for the post-game handshake, eat their orange slices, then make a dash to playground.
The playground is a modern take on the “old school jungle gym.” It has climbing structures, cargo nets, and floating boards (a series of ropes with platforms to walk across). The playground was recently installed and I’m glad its popular with the children.
One day after the soccer games were over, I decided to walk over to the new playground to see it “in action.”
I noticed a younger child trying to walk across the floating boards. Step by step, he intently assessed how to reach for the next pole, how to balance his weight on the board, and how to step toward the next board. He did this all by himself, without parental guidance (that is often more harmful than it is helpful).
During this time playing, he learned to assess risk. Some questions that were probably going through his mind as he attempted to traverse the floating boards: “Where is the best place for me to balance, while still reaching for the next board?,” “Is this surface stable?” and “Do I feel safe?”
By not having specific direction on how to complete the floating boards, he was able to assess and manage risk on his own. This activity is not dangerous; it was a safe place to partake in risky play. There is a difference between risky play and dangerous play.
Assessing and managing risk is almost a daily part of adult life. There is no better place to learn how to manage risk than as a child on a playground or partaking in risky play. Little does he know that his play as a young child will help him in his adult life.
If you enjoyed the spotlight of Brian’s book, Play to Live, and his guest post above and you live in Rochester NY, check out Play ROCs on July 13.