At the playground, my toddler immediately took off, scaling the “rock wall” of the climber. I found myself repeating, “be careful,” with every precarious foot placement, and then again when hurtled himself down the big slide. He fell at the bottom of the slide, but before I could get to him, he stood up, laughed and joyfully bolted around to do it all again.
As a parent and educator, I believe that one of my most important jobs is keeping children safe. Although that is certainly true, it is just as important that I’m also supporting their growth and development. I realized that there is a difference between hazards and challenges. Hazards are things children may not be aware of that could cause injury: loose screws that could make swings fall, cement under climbing equipment, icy spots on the sidewalk. Challenges are things the children are aware of, and part of healthy development is learning how to decide whether to risk trying: Climbing walls, higher slides and balance beams.
Play that includes challenges is necessary. It builds coordination, body awareness and motor skills. Challenging opportunities teach children to problem-solve and to be aware of themselves and what they are ready for. Overcoming challenges makes children feel proud of themselves. My son was ecstatic, knowing that he went down the slide the bigger children were using. Did he think the fall at the end was worth it? Absolutely!
I continued to watch him run around the playground. He started to try some things, but then decided to stop when he knew it was too much. That rock wall and big slide he returned to over and over and over again, though. So now I am trying my best to control my “be careful”-s as he continues his growth through challenging play.