Adventurous Play

(Or -What’s he doing in that tree?!)

Kids today have never been safer, or more sedentary. As a generation we have protected our children so much that they lack the confidence to move without us. And as a parent it’s my fault as much as the next. The problem is, as a physical literacy instructor, I really SHOULD know better. It isn’t that I don’t try to have them be confident, or that my children aren’t active. They are. They participate in track and field and they play soccer and swim and speed skate over the course of the year. We walk to the park and they ride bikes and one just received a hockey net for his 7th birthday.

Monkey bars
Son #1 showing off on the monkey bars at an otherwise deserted park

So what’s the big problem with today’s youth when it comes to adventurous play? Why are the monkey bars empty? How come there seems to be as many adults on the play structures as kids? The problem is US. The problem is “Be careful!” After reading an article with a developmental psychologist on this phrase, and the impact it has on children’s sense of independence, I started becoming aware of how often I actually uttered these two words to my own two boys.
At the park “Go ahead, but be careful up high!”
On their bikes. “Be careful on the hill!”
Or even when they were making up imaginary games in the backyard “Be careful with those sticks!”

In the name of safety everything was now a threat, without ever verbalizing what the risk actually was. I realized that I was just fooling myself into believing that I was letting them take risks by letting them go play but telling them to be careful. Instead of setting them free, I was telling them that there WAS something to be afraid of so they didn’t try anything. Falls became a failure. A skinned knee a catastrophe.

I now make a concentrated effort to help my children understand what they should be mindful of when playing. They climb higher on the jungle gym and are told “You’re doing fine, just look for another handhold”. When I want to say “Be careful!” I look for advice I can give them instead, but sit back and let them try to solve their own problems first.  I am constantly amazed at their creativity and spatial awareness. While I still recommend that they use brakes biking down steep hills, I realize that their bike helmets are the most important things I can give them.

I now find them waving to me from trees in the backyard and I’ll wave back, swallow hard and continue on with what I was doing. They’ll find their way down…eventually.

IMG_3151[1]
Up in a favorite tree.  Sometimes he climbs down, sometimes he jumps.
Laura Sivers – LifeFit Athletics

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