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Kath Dickson Family Centre

Serving, protecting and empowering families since 1975

serving, protecting and empowering families since 1975serving, protecting and empowering families since 1975

Kath Dickson Family Centre Blog

How to inspire wonderful childhoods

- Monday, March 13, 2017
Child climbing a treeClimbing trees, building forts and riding your bike until dark are almost a thing of the past, with the vast majority of kids now spending more time playing indoors.

More than 40 early childhood educators were challenged to consider the implication of this shift indoors during a recent professional development seminar on ‘Risk Rich Environments’, organised by the Kath Dickson Family Centre. 

Experienced educator, Cathy Cahill from Family Day Care Association Queensland, opened the engaging session by asking her colleagues to reflect on their own childhoods and how our attitudes towards risk have changed significantly in one generation.

“There has been a huge shift our approach to risk,” Cathy explained. “Risk was just a part of daily life when I started in childcare – there was real grass, kids played with water and rocks. Now swings have been taken out of playgrounds and trees have been cut down.”

The mother of three said children need to encounter some real risks so they can respond positively to challenging situation and learn how to deal with uncertainty. 

“Children need to learn how to accept responsibility, build risk management strategies and develop a respect for danger, hazards and experimentation,” Cathy explained.

“Playing outside makes kids happier, healthier and smarter – they need free time, play time, exploring time and quiet time. How do we enable children to reflect and create secret places?”

The well-documented Swedish approach to risk and play was also hotly discussed, with Cathy sharing stories from European childcare centres.

“There is a German kindergarten where you can drop your child at one coordinate and they have to hike, with their own backpack, to another coordinate to start their day,” Cathy said.

“In places like Norway and Sweden, where it snows, kids play outside all year round.”

This contrasts starkly with Australia, with a Planet Ark (2013) study finding that 13% kids now spend more time playing outdoors than indoors. Watching TV, video games, lack of supervision and homework were other barriers to outside activity.

“Crime and safety concerns are keeping children indoors – that fear of who is out there and keeping children safe,” Cathy explained. “But there is no evidence to say that children are more likely to be kidnapped than they were a generation ago.”

Cathy referred to author of “Barefoot and Balanced”, Angela Hanscom, and one of the United Kingdom’s leading thinkers on childhood, Tim Gill, during her presentation.

“I highly recommend their books to parents who are wanting learn more about the importance of playing outdoors and taking risks,” Cathy said.

“Angela is an occupational therapist and mother who promotes the sensory benefit of unrestricted outdoor play and Tim believes that it is natural and healthy for children to take risks, make mistakes, have everyday adventures and test themselves and their boundaries,” Cathy said.

The session ended with educators examining photographs of children playing in potentially risky, outdoor activities.

“When you look at these photographs I want you to examine the perceived risks, but also the benefits,” Cathy said.

“We as educators need to be aware of the National Quality Standard we sit under, but we also need to be able to look at the risk/benefit of a situation, rather than just focusing on the risks.”

Benefits of outdoor play include hand-eye coordination, spatial awareness, balance, problem solving, strong gross-motor skills and creative thinking.

“The benefits of exploration are enormous and, as educators, we need to value those risks and ask yourself, ‘How are you inspiring wonderful childhoods?’” Cathy said.

Kath Dickson Family Centre runs regular professional development sessions for early childhood educators and parents.