A no-risk childhood presents a risk in and of itself: That kids will not develop the bounce that comes from enduring some bumps — literal and figurative — along the way.
Which, by the way, is precisely the concern of Let Grow. And so, writes Ellen Barry on the front page of Sunday’s New York Times:
SHOEBURYNESS, England — Educators in Britain, after decades spent in a collective effort to minimize risk, are now, cautiously, getting into the business of providing it.
Four years ago, for instance, teachers at the Richmond Avenue Primary and Nursery School looked critically around their campus and set about, as one of them put it, “bringing in risk.”
Out went the plastic playhouses and in came the dicey stuff: stacks of two-by-fours, crates and loose bricks. The schoolyard got a mud pit, a tire swing, log stumps and workbenches with hammers and saws.
“We thought, how can we bring that element of risk into your everyday environment?” said Leah Morris, who manages the early years program at the school in Shoeburyness in southeast Britain. “We were looking at, O.K., so we’ve got a sand pit, what can we add to the sand pit to make it more risky?”
Now, Ms. Morris says proudly, “we have fires, we use knives, saws, different tools,” all used under adult supervision. Indoors, scissors abound, and so do sharp-edged tape dispensers (“they normally only cut themselves once,” she says).
(Ironically, I have cut myself far more than once on a tape dispenser, even as recently as last Friday, but let’s not quibble.)
Let’s celebrate the recognition that some playgrounds have become so dull that they offer all the excitement of eating applesauce. But what I do find a bit vexing is that, at least in this story, adults embrace only the “risk” that they pre-approve:
Outside the Princess Diana Playground in Kensington Gardens in London, which attracts more than a million visitors a year, a placard informs parents that risks have been “intentionally provided, so that your child can develop an appreciation of risk in a controlled play environment rather than taking similar risks in an uncontrolled and unregulated wider world.”
Geez Louise! Isn’t the whole idea that we WANT kids to get used to the “unregulated” wider world? Is there no “uncontrolled” risk that we’re willing to let kids experience? A tree they could climb that is not pre-approved? A half-rotted plank they could tread?
Sounds to me like the authorities are tied up in knots: They want risk and yet, having spent so long obsessing about things like how deep the mulch must be under the swing set, they still MUST control everything kids encounter. Maybe this is just the intermediate step between overdosing on safety and letting kids play outside again. Let’s hope.
But in the meantime, remember: The outside world is no dicier than when we were growing up. That means there’s no need to make everything perfect, even “risk.” – L.