The great thinkers that were featured in the first module on History and Culture provide historical support for a childhood that takes place outdoors. Children’s play indoors has risks but outdoors, early learning teachers may feel less prepared to control or manage that risk. Think about indoor environments. Early learning programs often use gates, outlet covers and other measures to keep children safe. Hazardous materials such as detergent pods and medicines are placed out of the reach of children. Now think about outdoor environments. Are early learning teachers able to plan and implement so many “safe actions” for the outdoor environment? Perhaps it is because of not being able to control the outdoor environment for safety and risk that childhood is increasingly moving indoors (Elkind, 2006). Could it be that the indoor environment is easier to control than the outdoors when it comes to safety? This trend has come with a cost. Children need unstructured outdoor play – play that includes taking risks – because it is important for their healthy development. As a society, we are now experiencing the developmental challenges that children endure when they have had limited access to outdoor play and options to engage in risky play. It is because of this that the risky play movement has become a force to be considered as more than a trend. It is an early childhood direction necessary for children that will change the course of childhood.
Adventure, risk and challenge are not new concepts. Consider what Margaret McMillan (1930), quoted in Solly (2015), said about her ideal outside play area:
A little children’s garden must offer every kind of inducement to muscular play and action. It must be planned with an eye to real safety whilst encouraging children to play bravely and adventurously. Rough stones, narrow curved paths, jumping-off places and a grassy stretch to lie on. (p. 10)
Take a moment to reflect on McMillan’s choice of words and remember that she said these 100 years ago. Does your play area reflect muscular play, action options and a stretch of grass to lie down on? Does the space encourage children to play bravely and safely? Think about how dichotomous these words are and how risky play is obviously about balance.