Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Childhood: Risk Needed, By Emily Hall

One day, I looked back into the suite a minute after beginning to set the table. Amari was standing on the table, stretching up to throw blocks out of the open window. He could not have fallen out- he is too wide to fit and too short to reach. Amari and the open window could have been hazardous for the blocks- as anyone who has seen a toddler experimenting with gravity can attest. But the table was the real danger in the situation. The Child Development Center reports that: *Falls are the leading cause of nonfatal injuries for all children ages zero to nineteen. Every day approximately 8,000 children are treated in U.S. emergency rooms for fall-related injuries.* Despite the logical risk of the table, for some reason it was the open window and its proximity to outside that disturbed me the most in the moment. The everyday risk of climbing onto and falling from a table- that was an indoor risk. Not as dangerous as outside. Despite the fact that every day, children visit the emergency room for fall related injuries, it was a window too high to fall out of and its proximity to the nature preserve that scared me.

I am not alone in my miscalculation. As a child, I fell from a piece of playground equipment and broke my back on the concrete. At the same school, I was given a time out for rinsing my hands in a puddle of rain. The playground equipment was seen as *safe*-man made. The puddle? Dangerous! Messy!

Parents and caregivers worry, worry, worry. We are constantly assessing risk, sometimes wrongly. We are human. Children have the difficult job of learning to navigate gravity. Caregivers and parents have the difficult job of letting them. Unfortunately, sometimes a scrape or bump is the only way to learn. The outdoors is seen as the greatest risk, with its dogs, strangers, rivers, and roads. Indoors is viewed as less risky. If you read through a childcare center medical log, you will see that children fall, pinch their fingers, and bump their heads as much inside as they do outside. In fact, bumping your head on soft dirt is much more comfortable than on a hard floor. And instead of a plain old white ceiling, outside you can see the sky.

Venturing outside the fenced in yard takes a brave caregiver. It is not a risk to be taken lightly. Some children just aren*t ready to come when they are called. When everyone is ready to listen, the plants grow fast in a wet year, hiding children from view. Tots change their minds at a moment*s notice about whether they are willing to listen. The trails erode quickly if there is a big storm. Dogs run loose in the woods. People have parties and break their glass bottles. Bees sting. Being in nature requires extra vigilance from the caregiver.

I have never seen a medical log entry at LifeWays about a child cut by broken glass. I have never experienced it. We turn around if we see glass. I ask dog owners to keep their animals away. If I am alone with the children, our group stays near the center. I have a cell phone. It stays within a heartbeat*s reach. Yes, there have been bee stings. Sometimes feet go in the river. Knees get scraped. Twigs scratch. But then, we see a hawk, deer, cardinal, mouse, snake, squirrel, kitten, rabbit, or the occasional coyote. We build houses from sticks, climb trees, write our names with sticks in the dirt, pick wild salad and paint in the rain. We sled and make snow angels, drink cocoa and share fairy tales about Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, and the gnomes. Life is risky. Bad things happen sometimes. And then you learn how to assess risk better, you find a different place to play. You climb a tree instead of playground equipment. You decide that falling down outside is better because despite your skinned knees, the air is just better in the woods.

No comments:

Post a Comment