Less is more when it comes to kids birthday parties
Loving pre-loved clothing

Is our fear of risk harming our children?

Tree climbing Tricia Hogbin-001

I recently discovered there’s a bucket list for childhood - 50 things to do before you’re 11 ¾. The list of 50 outdoor activities aims to “encourage kids to get mucky, discover their wild side and most of all enjoy what Mother Nature has to offer”. It includes essential childhood activities like climb a tree, roll down a really big hill, make a mud pie, and cook on a campfire.

I think there’s another list –

Minor accidents every child should encounter before departing childhood

Perhaps it would look something like this:

  1. fall out of a tree
  2. stack your bike
  3. cut your foot on an oyster shell
  4. get stung by a blue-bottle
  5. get dumped by a wave
  6. burn your mouth on a toasted marshmallow
  7. step on a bindi-eye

I experienced each of these minor accidents during my childhood – along with a couple of broken bones.

I consider these accidents a badge of a joyful childhood.

They also provided an invaluable learning opportunity.

Through these accidents I learnt to judge risk, tested my physical limits and learnt new skills. I improved my balance, learnt to enjoy the surf without being afraid and discovered what I could and couldn’t do on a bike.

I also learnt that you can’t climb a really big tree, hang a hessian bag over a branch, then climb into it and expect to be able to hold your own weight. That accident resulted in a broken arm - and hopefully I earned a good dose of common sense a long with it.

The impact of our risk adverse society on my daughter and her peers has been on my mind.

"small risks taken early (and the natural world is good place to take those risks) can prepare children to avoid more onerous risks later in life" Richard Louv

I’m keen to find a balance between reducing the risks of serious injury and allowing her to engage in creative, challenging, exciting and slightly risky play.

I’m determined to quieten my paranoid coddling mum tendencies and provide ample opportunity for her to engage in independent outdoor play.

I’ll be cheering her on when she races her bike down hills, climbs high up a tree, and learns to dive under a wave – despite the mum in me wanting to yell out “slow down”, “don’t climb so high” and “the waves are too big”. Because there’s some lessons that just have to be learnt sooner or later.

[Originally published in the The Newcastle Herald 18th May 2013]

Do you worry too that we are wrapping our kids in cotton wool and preventing them from finding their own boundaries?

Further reading on the topic: 

edited: I’ve popped back to leave a note on this scheduled post after learning of the heartbreaking loss of Kathreen Ricketson and her partner Rob. Kathreen was an inspiration to me, particularly through her Action Pack Magazine for Kids. Little Eco and I have spent many hours enjoying activities inspired by her work and will continue to do so for many years. I didn’t have the pleasure of meeting Kathreen in real life, but the sadness I feel at her loss has made me realise just how powerful this online world is.

I contemplated deleting this post after learning of their tragic accident while swimming – because it seems a little heartless to write about risk. But given that Kathreen was passionate about childhood exploration and helping children connect with nature, I feel OK about leaving it as is. May her work continue to inspire children to create, explore, learn and connect with nature for many years to come.