Building resilience in children seems to be a theme that has come up a great deal in recent times. Whether it be to cope with the stress of our increasingly busy lifestyles, dealing with ever-changing external factors totally out of our control or learning to navigate and cope with childhood bumps and scraps in the playground, learning to work through these trials and disappointments in a positive and accepting manner, is all part of building resilience in children.
And just how can we help build resilience in children?
Interestingly, Australian parenting author and educator Maggie Dent believes that allowing children unstructured play opportunities not only helps to “develop curiosity” but also develops their ability to take a few risks – thus giving them the opportunity to become resilient human beings.
We know that the research consistently proves that unstructured play helps children learn in so many ways – it promotes risk-taking, allows the children to be imaginative and creative, and guides them in the process of making choices and autonomy. “Play is how we learn to wait, to take turns, to develop the art of strategy, to lose and to win graciously,” she states. “When it’s set outside in the natural world, it’s also fantastic exercise, good for children’s spirits and can reduce stress.” When children play, they are also able to learn from their mistakes and to bounce back from life’s inevitable challenges and ups and downs.
So, as parents and educators, what can we do for our children to ensure we are giving them every opportunity to develop these necessary skills for life?
The answer is quite simple – we let them play.
Play is a big part of our school day at Silver Tree – and this philosophy begins right in the formative years in our kindergarten programmes. Here you will see the children digging tunnels in the sandpits, negotiating how to climb the forts, balancing chairs on tables creatively to create the perfect two storey castle. I always smile whenever I walk through the kindergartens and observe just how engrossed the children are in their world of imaginative play.
And in the primary school too, every day we see the children immersed in a range of unstructured play. A stroll through our Bush Playground – “The Village” as we affectionately call it – and you will see on any given day, Silver Tree children climbing trees effortlessly, carefully negotiating the strength of branches, testing their weight and courage with each step. We see them building incredibly intricate cubby houses. We are able to witness their excited problem-solving discussions over the cubby’s architecture, the correct materials to use, the distribution of labour fairly. All of course, wonderful learning opportunities for the children. Similarly, the nature play equipment in the junior primary is filled with children climbing and negotiating their way across the structures, at every opportunity. During outside playtimes, our youngest Class 1 children are always completely engrossed in their play in their smaller play space, – you will see them immersed in the world of the sandpit and the castle, or climbing the mulberry tree, or striving to cross the monkey bars (a Class 1 rite of passage!) or carefully navigating and balancing on the wooden posts – known as the lemniscate. Our incredible Class 1 teacher remarks on watching this unstructured play within her class over the year: “It’s fascinating to watch the children trialing and testing how far they can push boundaries through these risks in their play. This is how they learn where their own limits lie, both physically and socially, and to observe it unfolding is quite magical to see.”
Greater risk in play
A news article came out in 2021 about the fact that in Germany, they are actually adding greater risk into their playgrounds. Some of the playground climbing structures are now three stories high, it is stated. And, would you believe, it is the insurance companies requesting this! They claim that they want the children of Germany to grow up “risk competent.” An influential 2004 study had found that “children who had improved their motor skills in playgrounds at an early age were less likely to suffer accidents as they got older,” according to The Guardian.
All very interesting. However, as Steiner educators, we already know and understand intimately the importance of play for our children. In fact we encourage it wholeheartedly. That is why we structure in, unstructured play each and every day at Silver Tree! And we know that our children are all the better for it.
German Insurance Companies Demand Perilous Playgrounds So That Kids Can Learn About Risk – Reason.com
Let children judge risks, be resilient – Maggie Dent