Unstructured Outdoor Play – It’s Worth the Risk!

playing outside


Exploring the great outdoors will provide children and their families with the opportunity to talk about a variety of feelings. Helping children identify these feelings and naming them will introduce children to a whole new world of learning and language. Do you want your child to “feel” what it means to experience a thrilling sensation because you trusted them to take a risk instead of cautioning them not to? Do you want your children to experience fear so they learn and respect their own boundaries? What does it feel like to have ‘butterflies in my tummy’ or to swing so high that the wind rushes over your body and makes your hair fly? Imagine having these conversations if you weren’t actually experiencing it? How do you describe what is feels like to roll so fast down a hill without doing it with your child or dropping down from a high landing and learning how to land….oh that rush when you did it!!! How do you teach children anticipation if you aren’t chasing them? Play fighting isn’t a scary idea, it’s an opportunity to make rules together, work together to enforce them, and to negotiate when someone needs help.

Through funding from the Lawson Foundation’s Outdoor Play Strategy, the YMCA of Western Ontario is enhancing our YMCA Playing to Learn curriculum to include developmentally appropriate risky opportunities in our outdoor classrooms. We look forward to sharing our findings with our families, community partners and nationally across our YMCA’s.

Check out the link below to see what the experts are saying. There is overwhelming evidence that children are not experiencing our natural world with all its benefits and opportunities to learn, speak about and feel. We have to adjust our mindset and reframe risk. Risk is beneficial when it’s developmentally appropriate and supervised. Children want the adults in their world to be brave and encourage them even when they make mistakes. Our very best learning comes from this. Just think how different and more enriched your conversations with your little ones would be if we asked them how they were feeling instead of telling them (remember to be brave!).

The Relationship between Risky Outdoor Play and Health in Children?

The warmer weather is here and there are plenty of people who will spend more time outdoors. While we all find it easier to be outside this time of year, we want to know all there is about the other seasons in the outdoors, too. Check out the link below for ideas of what to do outside with young children. Remember, think outside the box, talk to the children about what you are doing and try really hard to be brave enough to allow it.

is your child getting enough outdoor play?


Written by: Jennifer Gilbert


2000 Words to Grow , Current Research , Engagement , Skill Development
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