Risky play

This September I have two new-school-year goals: 1) walk my son to kindergarten (you can read that blog post at bchealthyliving.ca/starting-school/; and 2) encourage his passion for risky play.

The first time I heard the term “risky play” was when I was struck by Dr. Mariana Brussoni’s closing presentation at last year’s Public Health Association of BC (PHABC)’s annual conference.  (This year’s PHABC conference is coming up on November 14th and 15th, and trust me you don’t want to miss it! You can register at https://phabc.org/2019-PHABC-conference-registration/).

Dr. Brussoni had us close our eyes and think of what we did when we played outdoors as kids. And as happily tired as I was after a two-day jam packed event, I spent a few reinvigorating moments reminiscing about these large, abandoned cement tubes and how a crew of us kiddos loved to jump and climb through them. These tubes sat next to the woods far out of sight of any of our parents’ houses and were nowhere near a playground.

Dr. Brussoni’s words struck a chord in me – what we call risky play now was an average day for me as a kid. And I wasn’t allowed to come home until 5pm!

I left the PHABC conference teeming with professional learning and struggling with a personal wake-up call: even though it’s the safest time to be a kid, I was behaving as though it wasn’t. And my good intentions were really getting in the way because an active kid has a better chance at being a holistically healthy kid.

So, I came up with a plan. Try to butt out and observe how my son played, no matter if it challenged the playground rules or not and only step in if there was imminent danger.

Two things surprised me:  how little danger of harm to himself or others there was and how much my son loves to climb.

The real test came in the form of a tall tree near our local library. After we returned books my son ran ahead and started climbing this tree and by the time I arrived, he was already a good seven to eight feet in the air looking very proud of himself.  I bit my lip when it was time to get down because he visibly became nervous. And I thought, oh no, if I’m lucky he survives the fall with a full recovery and a ‘world’s stupidest mom’ video goes viral. If I’m not lucky, it doesn’t bear thinking. But something in me knew this was important for him to figure out. So, I called up, ‘think about where to put your feet as you climb down. I’m right here. You’ve got this.’  And myself along with a group of murmuring parents watched him for a good five to ten minutes figure his way out of the situation.

A week or so later when we returned to the library, he climbed the same tree but he didn’t climb as high and when he was done hanging out up there and he got down fairly confidently.

And so as my son navigates the school system for the first time, I will do my best to encourage his love of ‘risky play’ because I think it’s not only going to keep him active but help him figure out a few things about himself and the world around him.

If you’re in the lower mainland, here is a great way to kick off the school year: Dr. Guy Faulkner’s Documentary premiere: Running Free: Children’s Independent Mobility, followed by a panel discussion featuring four esteemed speakers including Dr. Marina Brussoni.

This presentation is on September 18th from 6:30-8:30pm at the Robert H. Lee Alumni Centre, UBC Point Grey Campus. You can register online and admission is $10.

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