It may seem counterintuitive, but ‘Tricky’ Experiences are actually incredibly important when it comes to your child’s physical and mental development.
As parents, our natural instinct can sometimes be to wrap our children up in cotton wool to protect them from hurt, injury, and disappointment. However, our desire to keep them safe at all costs – and close to us at all times – can actually hinder their physical and social development.
Children require the physical and mental challenges associated with certain risky or ‘tricky’ situations and experiences in order to grow and learn. They need to be able to test boundaries for themselves and navigate their way forward.
‘Tricky’ experiences, as we call them at Guardian, can help children develop resilience and confidence; that they are competent and capable individuals. Likewise, tricky play encourages decision-making skills and risk assessment. These skills are especially essential for children approaching primary school as they help children navigate the challenges and opportunities of a formal school setting, including new and larger play areas and environments.
The Guardian Outdoor Curriculum includes “Being Tricky” as an ongoing weekly planning consideration, and is a key way that children enjoy play and being outdoors in the Centres.
Guardian Childcare and Education Curriculum Lead Bronwyn Thomson says, “This is not about putting your child in harm’s way, but about supporting them to develop important life skills.”
“When your child rolls down a hill or slides down a slide, they are developing their senses and understanding their bodies. When they spin, hang upside down, run down a hill or climb a wall they are learning about their natural limits and how to problem-solve.
“As part of real-world learning, children need physical and mental challenges which are a little ‘tricky’. That push the boundaries of their knowledge and skills. It’s about physicality, but also developing skills like resilience, confidence in themselves and their bodies, and reinforcing that they are capable and competent individuals.”
Here are some ways parents can encourage tricky play at home – both indoors and out – to bring its benefits to life and help prepare children for the transition to primary school.
Create an obstacle course
Guardian Childcare and Education’s Freshwater centre manager Sarah Lean suggests getting creative by making an indoor obstacle course for your child to explore.
“To make an obstacle course, all you need are basic items from around the house – like chairs, boxes, blankets and pillows (just nothing breakable!). Then let your child move their way through the course – jumping, crawling, even hopping!” Sarah says.
Obstacle courses offer your child the chance to make their own decisions as they find their way through. Decision-making is an essential skill for school readiness, as children continually build up their independence. Developing this through play allows your child to feel empowered by their choices and encourages them to reach out to their peers, developing social unity.
Most of us remember running wildly down a hill as a child, or even better, rolling down it. This activity gives your child an understanding of their body and how it moves in relation to surroundings thereby helping develop spatial awareness. By allowing children to play in the outdoors, we are saying to them, “I trust you” and, “You can do it”.
“Tricky play is an impactful way to learn about consequences through the understanding of, ‘If I do this, then that will happen’,” says Diane Forrester, Centre Manager at Guardian Childcare and Education Coromandel Valley.
“While you may come back with a few bumps from time to time, children will also return with a better understanding of their own boundaries, and more confidence in their ability to move and control their body. Not to mention, fun memories!”
A trip to the local park
Take your child to your local playground or park and watch them take on the climbing net, swing higher and higher on the swings, race their friends down the slide, or jump from tree stump to tree stump.
“At our Centre, the absolute favourite piece of equipment in our outdoor play area is our wooden fort. The children love it, and there are so many physical and mental benefits they can gain by using it!” explains Sarah.
“To climb up the fort, the children have to pull themselves up a steep incline – this exercise is great for their core strength. It is also an example of how children can learn more about the power and uniqueness of their bodies and what they are capable of.”
“Play equipment like the fort often presents challenges that test children’s balance and coordination as well as developing their cognitive thinking by learning to problem-solve, such as, ‘If I place my foot here, I can climb down safely’.”
Walking through nature is a great way for your child to take calculated risks in their play and to discover new things about the world around them. They might climb over rocks and up hills or down narrow, bumpy trails. Hopefully, they’ll also encounter a lizard, different bugs, or even prickly plants along the way.
“We have a hill – or as the children call it, ‘The Mountain’ – in our yard, and a creek just across the road. We are so lucky, as these environments are where we are going to run our Bush Kindy program, which allows the children to exercise their decision making and risk-assessment skills,” says Diane.
“While we absolutely supervise the children in these environments, we also encourage the children to explore, be socially responsible and show respect for the environment in which they are playing. All are key learnings as they prepare for primary school and life.”
Children need opportunities that will help them grow into confident and independent individuals, and tricky play experiences do just that – readying them for primary school and beyond.