One of the biggest hurdles to outdoor play is understanding the nature of risk-taking. We have found that the most challenging daily risk-taking children will experience in our nature immersion programs has little to do with wild nature play at all. Snakes, fire-work, water-play and tree-climbing are not as challenging for children as putting on their own clothes, trying new foods or saying farewell in the morning.
In moving beyond the security of our comfort zones where everything within is known and safe, the children have learned that each person’s zone of comfort is different, and that we take a risk when we step out of it. We learn about fear … safely. And together.
Children are very often much more courageous and resourceful than we adults imagine they will be. In our distress at noticing children’s discomfort, we can do them a disservice by not trusting them to learn and grow in this moment. We might even find that in our attempts to provide comfort that we are teaching children that they cannot do it themselves.
It’s hard for adults to see the strength in children when it gratifies us to help them. It’s even harder when children are expressing frustration, sadness, fear or anger because they are out of their comfort zone and learning how to be present with that. We don’t want them to feel sad or fearful and we want to solve their problem.
But should we solve their problems?
Offering bandaids for tiny scratches, carrying children’s belongings for them, carrying children when they can walk, packing their bags, opening lunch boxes, doing things that they can do themselves (or are capable of learning to do themselves) teaches children to rely upon others for the comfort, strength, courage and resourcefulness that we know is within them.
Do we make children learn tricky things before they are ready? No, of course not. We understand that risk-taking looks different for everyone, and is different again at various ages. But we will hold the vision for them that we believe they can learn, and we will provide lots of opportunities for practice and we will encourage a child to try even if it’s a bit frustrating. Learning how to try something new is often the biggest risk-taking lesson of all..
We encourage our other children at Birdwings to model courageousness for their new friends in these situations. When one of our friends is feeling uncertain, missing home, or a little scared of trying something new, the others know just what to say:
“Are you feeling worried? I miss my mum sometimes too. This is what I do to feel braver…”
“Do you want some help to pump up your courage? Here, I’ve got your hands”
“I never liked mango before but I kept trying it”
“Why don’t you watch us? Or try it this way instead?”
“We can sit together when you feel sad.”
“I’ll give you a clue. Watch out for this bit, it’s tricky”
In this way the children are acknowledging risk that they’ve already overcome and helping each other to greet challenges. They know it’s hard to try new things when you don’t feel confident in your skills yet. They know that these feelings are real – whether it is concern about leaving your mum, not liking the look of that spider, the feel of mud on your toes, not wanting to eat that fruit, or uncertainty of walking through tall grass. They all know the feeling of risk – and they know it passes because we are learning together in a safe space. They have felt it, and we encouraged them to step forward and try anyway, and they realised they could. We can be present, and we can be kind. We know we are all capable of great things.
I wonder, if we never ventured out into the world and just stayed in our comfort zones, might we have had the experiences and opportunities to build relationships, confidence, resilience, trust and sensible decision-making? I reflect on these children, and myself, and realise how wide our comfort zones have now grown, and how happy we are in them.
Children can do it, and so can the big-people. It takes vision, effort, courage, community support and a lot of empathy. Stepping outside is a challenge for both children (and many adults too), however by the very nature of outdoor play we are embracing the possibility of risk in children’s play. As we go forward together we learn more about our world and how to be in it – and children are learning for themselves about the magnificent things they are capable of doing!
We want our children to have a care-free childhood filled with special memories of family moments and playing with friends, just like our own was. We know it is a priority to make sure our children have free play time outside, but our lives as parents are so busy and childhood is increasingly scheduled, so that it is now difficult to ensure our children are getting enough nature play. Finding the balance between the pressures of modern living and our own values for freedom, creativity and play can be a real challenge families.
Children can experience the natural childhood you had – the joy and freedom of unstructured play with friends outside. We can help you! Come and play with us at Birdwings – relive your childhood with your own children at WildPlay Adventurers and Bush Kindy. Adults and children alike: we slide down hills, climb trees, splash in the creek, race billy carts, light fires and build cubbies. A couple of hours each week to be a kid again and enjoy playful moments with your little ones.
If you can’t afford the time to play during the week, then let us support you. We can make sure your child has plenty of time and space to play, explore, dream and have adventures. Little Birdwings Forest Kindy will provide up to 7.5 hours in one day of wild nature connection for your children. There’s nothing else like it around – as the first Forest School on the Gold Coast providing 100% outdoor programs, we have families who drive from over an hour away to join us every week!
Attending once a week at Little Birdwings means your little one may have up to 90 hours of outdoor play time with us before Easter. Attending every week for the year means they will will very possibly have spent over 300 hours outside – through all seasons – playing, exploring, crafting, singing, snoozing, eating, discovering, sharing, communicating, imagining, creating, wondering and enjoying nature. Amazing growth and learning occurs when children have regular play outside, developing lifelong meaningful connections to wild nature.
All this outdoor play builds up to being the BEST “school readiness” learning around. Through play with friends in nature, children become connected to their physical bodies, learn to embrace considered risks, become self confident and articulate. They are so caring and find ways to show it, both to each other and to nature. They can play without toys and tell the most marvelous stories. They can tell you about bush safety. They can sew, weave, paint and draw. They can tell you botanical names for things, and offer suggestions for how to overcome challenges. They can walk great distances over logs, rocks, through creeks and up hills.
If you find it a challenge to offer enough outdoor play to your children, let us do it for you. We have options for every child.
Challenges mostly come to us in our lives when we are ready for them. As infants we learn to walk after we have grown strong core muscles from rolling around on the floor, sitting and crawling. We are ready to move so the challenge is embraced. We learn to talk after listening to conversation and sounds around us, watching people interact socially and practicing the sounds for ourselves. When we need to communicate we are ready to try. Such challenges come to us naturally when we are in a place of comfort and ready shift into a new period of growth.
Sometimes in our growth we deliberately seek a new experience and at other times, moving around outside of the zone of familiarity is awkward, uncomfortable and requires a new skill set. New skill sets require practice. Practice means we need to navigate that space between what we know and don’t know, over and over again. One foot in the comfort zone, and another out, until we are ready to step out all together into a new space of learning. It sure does help when we have people to watch and learn from: mentors to guide and encourage us and help us reflect on our learning.
Challenge is meant to be a bit tricky. Challenge stretches us and asks us to find our more about ourselves. Challenge encourages us to reflect on our capabilities, our effort and our motivation. It hones our vision and it uplifts us when we finally realise that now we can do it, when we couldn’t before. Remember when that was hard?
Sometimes challenges come to us before we are ready. They take us by surprise and ask us to grow too quickly and learn too many new things at once. We might have to learn new skills as we go, and without a guide. We have to navigate a new environment that feels hostile and unfamiliar. These challenges will come to us in our lives – without a doubt! Children might greet such challenges when they are starting a new school, moving house or experiencing a family trauma. It can feel overwhelming, maybe traumatic. It doesn’t get easier as we get older, the challenges keep coming: learning to drive, moving out of home, starting new jobs, travelling, managing finances, being a parent, coping with grief and loss.
When those big challenges come, who will cope better? The person who has learned to embrace difficulty or the person who has had few opportunities to practice stepping confidently forward in their own learning? The person who understands that hurt, disappointment and confusion is temporary, and can shape us and teach us new skills – or the person who has never had the opportunity to feel such pain and grow through it?
As we cannot predict when major challenges will enter our lives, let’s encourage children to embrace the day-to-day ones first. Ask them to be responsible for their belongings, to pack their own bags, carry their things, do their own shoes laces up. Involve children in food preparation, tidying up and garden jobs because they are capable of doing this from an early age. Such responsibilities help children practice life skills and learn to apply effort to do a job well.
Let children have time to play outdoors with friends and without adults around. They’ll be ok! Allow time for children to address their disagreements before stepping in. Remember that we learn our social skills by being social – and this means experiencing arguments and disappointments from friends from time to time. It’s sad and frustrating at times. We are not responsible for our children’s happiness – but we can teach skills to reflect on empathy, emotional well-being, self-management and problem solving.
Let children feel a little pain. Let scratches bleed a little and watch the blood before it is covered up with a bandaid. Blood helps us heal. The pain of a bruise and the discomfort of a bump is our body’s way of saying “I got this! I’m healing!It’s going to take a little time so be patient!”, and we learn more about our bodies so that we don’t feel that again.
Children who are not provided with opportunities to discover their capabilities might experience every new difficulty as a major one because ALL the big challenges will come before they are ready! We, as parents and educators can be the mentors for children by providing a supportive challenge environment, and gently stretching the zone of comfort for children to learn that tricky things are not insurmountable: “We know its tricky and we know you can do it”.