OAD: Risky Play and the Garden Yard

Let the children be free; encourage them; let them run outside when it is raining; let them remove their shoes when they find a puddle of water; and, when the grass of the meadows is damp with dew, let them run on it and trample it with their bare feet; let them rest peacefully when a tree invites them to sleep beneath its shade; let them shout and laugh when the sun wakes them in the morning as it wakes every living creature that divides its day between walking and sleeping- Dr. Maria Montessori

It’s the moment we’ve all been patiently waiting for- our Garden Yard is complete! All of that waiting was worth it. The Older All Days have had a blast exploring, gathering natural materials, climbing, and creating with our sand and water features. I love so many things about this yard. One of the things that I love most, though, is that it offers plenty of opportunities for challenges and risks. Yes! We “let” children take risks.  When we allow children to take risks, any kind of risks, we offer them the opportunity to be in control of their development. Not only that, we’re offering them the highest quality of developmental experiences, because we are challenging them in ways they might not have been if we restricted their play.

When I talk about risks I think about an article that I read while I was in college. A primary school in New Zealand made the decision to eliminate rules from their playground. What they found is that this actually reduced injuries and instances of bullying. It goes to show that risky play doesn’t only benefit development but safety as well. Researchers have found that when given the opportunity to set their own limits in outdoor play experiences, children are better able to distinguish which activities are safe for them, and which they are capable of. Essentially, children actually reduce the risk of injury themselves when they aren’t heavily restricted. 

While we embrace risk, TCS doesn’t consider outdoor time a free-for-all.  On the contrary, we work together to implement active supervision policies, create limits that are the least restrictive possible, and provide safe and developmentally appropriate environments. The Garden Yard is a shared space for children from two up to six, which means that some areas are more developmentally appropriate for some age groups than others. We certainly allow children to do things that most people wouldn’t think a three or four year old would be capable of doing (like climbing high into trees or swinging upside down from monkey bars), but we ensure that children are safe while they are doing them. 

So, here’s the thing. There might be some scrapes and bruises on the way, because the other thing we “let” children do in the OAD room (and any room at TCS) is fail. We let them fail. And guess what? Your OAD’s are actually pretty good at it (I think many of us grown ups could learn from them). Part of taking risks is learning to persevere through failure. When a three year old can’t make it into the climbing tree they don’t give up- they learn to try another way. When they fall, they learn to use a new strategy. We want them (and you) to know that we are here to keep them safe every step of the way, but things don’t always go to plan. Risky play has so many benefits, and we’re lucky to have the perfect environment for it!

Link to September photos: