The difference between risk and danger
In the summer, my family packs up our bags, turns off our phones and heads out to a small piece of property on an island in northern Ontario with no electricity, and therefore no computers, video games and other digital distractions. While we are in the woods the default activity is for my kids to spend their time freely outdoors, doing things that some parents might raise an eyebrow at, and others would declare to be downright dangerous.
In fact, my husband and I have consciously made some "enhancements" to our outdoor space that ups both the risk factor and the fun factor for our kids. Let me explain.
The first enhancement, running between two massive pine trees, was a zip line about 3 meters off the ground that spans a good 30 meters through the woods. Our kids have learned to climb up to the starting platform on one tree and feel the thrill of launching into the air, using their own strength to hang on until the far side where they curl their legs up and push off the far pine tree to spring back.
Second we have a 12 meter slackline (a flat webbed line that is tensioned between two trees to balance on) a few feet off the ground where some serious balance is required to stay wobbling above the forest floor.
Third, we have the most genius water-slide that uses a solar panel to run a water pump to channel the 10 meter, handcrafted wood and metal slide to shoot slick, wet young sliders tumbling high out over the lake and into the deep, cold water.
These are all thrilling, confidence-building, elbow-scraping and water-up-the-nose childhood experiences that we have helped create for our three girls, who are not shy about getting dirty and going for it.
The recently released 2015 ParticipACTION Report Card on the Physical Activity of Children and Youth has it right when outlining the benefits of risky, outdoor play and highlighting the difference between risk and danger – I know that my children have benefited, and will continue to do so, by taking part in outdoor activities that test their limits and push their boundaries. By virtue of being a little more risky – climbing a little higher and going a little faster – the thrill and the fun is an inherent part of physical activity and keeps them moving for hours.
Stepping back and giving kids the room and opportunity to play hard and push boundaries can be tough to do but in the end, I know that this is what will help turn my three girls into strong, capable, confident, resilient, and healthy young women – which far outweighs the risk of a sprained wrist, scraped knee or bruised elbows.