There is something magical that happens when children are given a pile a leaves to explore. I remember being a young child and hiding in a pile so deep and lush that my hide-and-go-seek playmates never found me.
As I watch my current students play outside, I am keenly aware just how important opportunities to explore are for a child’s development. There are many benefits to playing outside, whether it is in leaves, sand, snow, water or with other natural elements. One of the reasons it is important is that this type of play lets children learn to manage risk.
Risk management is when we evaluate and prioritize risks in order to minimize their impact. Children cannot be taught how to manage risks by being told about them. Rather, they must be allowed to experience a variety of situations where they are forced to learn and adapt, fitting themselves into the prevailing conditions. For instance, playing on uneven heights and surfaces helps them to hone their coordination and balance.
At play, kids climbs on trees or other objects to help them understand the risks involved in the process. They become better at risk assessment. Even if they sustain a minor injury, something in them grows. They also gain problem-solving skills.
Ultimately, we want children to be excellent problem-solvers, a skill that is vital to most 21st century jobs. I hope our students hold onto a love of nature play such that they choose to hide in a pile of leaves during a lunch break from their jobs 20-something years from now. If not, at least they had a chance during preschool.