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Childhood, Play, Risk
A few weeks ago I watched my youngest navigate the climbing structure at a local playground. She is 2.8years and is known in our family as the “wild child.” She is adventurous and risk taking and way more capable than people  (including me sometimes) give her credit for. 

As she approached this climbing structure, she quietly assessed it. She looked for the lowest point to be able to pull herself up. She moved herself around the bottom of the structure before climbing higher and higher. 

At the end of the video you hear her ask for help and while the mum in me naturally wanted to rush over and lift her down, I fought the urge and instead offered her some suggestions to help herself. She was pretty chuffed with herself when the suggestion to reach out for the other rope worked and she got down by herself! 

Children need to be given opportunities to risk assess, to make choices, to ask for help if they need it.. 


Last week I took my three children to the local wetlands centre. After a big walk and some bird spotting we stopped for a picnic lunch and a play on the beautiful, timber playground. My youngest is 16 months. She is a climber, an adventurer, a risk taker. She is the one who is most likely to give me heart failure! But, every time she is climbing something or stretching out to do something that she sees her older siblings doing, I have to hold my tongue. While the mama bear in me screams “no….you’ll get hurt!” the educator in me knows that she is well and truly more capable than I give her credit for. 

On this day I watched her test her physical skills as she climbed into a large netted area. I resisted the temptation to help her, to lunge for her when she appeared to be struggling. And… she did it. She climbed up the side and over the top of the net and she finished with a look on her face that I once heard the amazing Claire Warden describe as “chuffedness” 

The quote above (main image) by Loris Malaguzzi really resonates with me, as I think it does with many other educators. Yet, for as much as we (as a profession) say that we view children as capable, in practice, this often seems to begin from about the age of three. What do I mean by that? Well, taking a look at the vast majority of outdoor play environments for babies we see that they offer very little risk or challenge. They usually comprise of synthetic surfacing, round edges and low, even surfaces. It is delightful (and often rare) to find an outdoor space for babies that encourages risk, supports them to explore different textures or to really challenge themselves. While I understand our desire to keep them safe, by limiting their opportunities to take risks, we do the babies in our care a great disservice. 

It is time to really embed this view of “children as capable” into our practice with babies. It is time to trust them!

Nicole Halton

Who remembers how fun it was when you were entwined in rough and tumble play with your parents or siblings? I remember giggling, tickling and rolling around the lounge room floor, or in the backyard.

Last week I visited an early childhood setting and observed two 3 year old girls engaged in rough and tumble play and they were absolutely loving it! They giggled with delight as they hugged, tickled and rolled during indoor play time. They were not creating a whole lot of noise and were in a cosy corner of the room away from the main area, although they kept glancing towards the educators as if on alert. I wondered why they were doing this. Did they intend to stop if they realised an adult saw them?

After about seven minutes an educator spotted them and called out across the room in a disapproving tone “Ah girls, go and find something to do please”.

Is this how you would have responded? I asked myself some questions. Do I view rough and tumble play as negative? Inappropriate? Only for outdoors? Not beneficial? I wondered how the girls felt when they heard the educator’s response. Did the tone of her voice give the message that it wasn’t ok to play in this way?  As educators we have so much responsibility to keep children safe that this is often our primary consideration when we respond to them.

But do we take the time to think about why children are playing in certain ways, and how their play is a way of communicating how their needs can be met? While we have to redirect children’s play sometimes, we must also tune into what their play is telling us and create opportunities to have their needs met in other ways. Instead of making children feel that rough and tumble play is wrong we should support them to use their senses and their motor skills in other ways. It could be as simple as getting out the crash mat (facilitating taking turns jumping onto this) or playing some action songs, practicing stretching, wrapping each other in blankets, or simply supervise the children as they tickle each other just as you would any other activity …..the options are endless.

Does rough and tumble play push your buttons because it is easier to support a child to do a table activity?


What is so special about being with 2 year olds? Many find this age group challenging, those terrible two’s..the temper tantrums that escalate out of control within minutes, the lack of verbal ability, the short attention span – often perceived to be worse in boys!! I believe this age group is the neglected group…in most EC centres they are either ‘lumped’ with the babies in environments that are not suitable for two year olds or they are all ‘lumped’ together in a group of only two year olds! Imagine having to spend the whole day, every day, very often in one room, with only people your own age group!

Spending time with a 31month old and a 26 month old in two very different ‘wild’ natural environments demonstrated all the best attributes of this age group. Curiosity, independence, capable, enthusiasm, adventurous, risk takers, self risk assessors, investigators, explorers, competent……an endless list! Not one tantrum, not a tear…….I feel this is the most misunderstood age and all they ask for is our time, our understanding, freedom and the opportunities to be allowed to experiment, explore and face appropriate challenges. Being outdoors offers so many of these opportunities and this is where these young children should be allowed to spend time to explore and investigate at their own pace. Lets celebrate those magic twos!
Wildspace – On the beach
Bodhi runs down the beach, stops, cautiously approaches the water, watches, splashes into the shallow waves while looking out to sea,observes  the waves roll in, and using his own judgement runs out of the water when he feels uncomfortable. As his confidence grows he challenged the waves to “come and get me!”

His body language demonstrates his love of the freedom and space available to him, the wind in his face, the ability to freely jump and move, adults who understand and are able to observe but not interfere either verbally or physically…..he did not need adult ‘interference’ he could DO IT!
Wildspace – In the bush
Oskar confidently leads the way, stops to investigate the Dandelions, picks up two sticks and experiments by hitting them together, then against a tree-stump, a burnt hollow tree, a living tree and a fallen branch. He uses the sticks to poke inside natural holes, one disappears into the tree-stump while the other is long enough to allow him to pick it out again.

He hears a noise, stops, assesses then looks to the adults for reassurance – he is lifted and watches the scrambler from the top of the tree-stump. Later he again hears the noise, looks around, steps off the track with the adults and once passed he confidently sets off again – he is in control….he could DO IT!

Some people are risk takers and some are not, some will take a chance on the unknown and see it as an adventure while others would not cope and would want to know all the options and possibilities! I know what Tash and I are – we are the risk takers, always prepared to take a chance believing that every opportunity into the unknown offers adventure and excitement.

When recently offered the opportunity to book into a ‘mystery’ hotel we jumped at it and were pleasantly surprised at the outcome – a lovely hotel on the beach….. certainly a risk that had been worth taking! Last night, while searching for a hotel, Tash found one of those deals that seemed too good to be true – a family room in a motel with a pool, next to the beach – of course we jumped at it.

On arrival we were met by an interesting character wearing a sweatshirt, shorts and ‘tatty’ crocs who proceeded to offer us a small metal jug of milk for our tea filled to the brim which he left on the doorstep. This set the scene for what was to come…….missing window pane in the bathroom, ironing cupboard, spare pillows and blankets we will not be using, rusting chairs, food hatch, eye-crossing bathroom tiles, ‘interesting’ wavy sealing along the washbasin, shower curtain tucked up and a TV balanced on the curving desk. The laughter started and didn’t stop – opening the drawer we were faced with a basket containing tea and coffee AND NUROFEN as well as an old receipt, the cupboard had a pile of old telephone directories – who would keep 8 copies?

Time for dinner and we decided to take another risk on visiting the restaurant below the motel. We were delighted by the most delicious meals – needless to say no connection between the restaurant and the motel although the lovely waitress did give us a knowing look when she heard where we were staying! Back to the room and time to get into bed…if you could catch your bed that is! We could have a bed race across the room! Beds on castors – and one amazing bed that listed when Tash tried to climb into it – only had 3 legs. Now we had a use for those piles of phone books.

Was this a risk worth taking? Yes – we have not laughed so much in ages, this is what memories are made of! Would we do it again – most certainly, we are the risk takers always looking for an adventure! Were there any benefits – yes, we are right on the beach and facing the seafront so are expecting a surprise view in the morning!
10 November 2012 The view when we got up…….DEFINITELY WORTH TAKING A RISK!