Risk and Reward in Nature Play

Ken Finch:

The bottom line: children need risk. It is a powerful catalyst for growth that helps them develop good judgment, persistence, courage, resiliency, and self-confidence. “Can I make it across the stream on that log?” “Should I climb one branch higher than I did yesterday?” “Can I jump from that boulder to the next one?” “Why yes, I can – because I’ve tried it and succeeded!” Remove risk from children’s lives, and parts of their growth may stagnate. As adults, we face risks every day – most routine, but some bigger. To deal with these risks, we use judgment which we’ve honed through years of practice, success, and failure. In effect, we go through our days making an enduring series of minor risk/benefit analyses, ranging from whether or not to eat that tempting donut to whether or not to slide through the bothersome yellow light.

However, kids are not born with the gift of informed judgment, nor with awareness of their own abilities and weaknesses. Instead, they learn their capabilities, their vulnerabilities, and their good decision-making skills through real life experiences – sometimes happy, sometimes harsh, but always instructive. Ultimately, a child can practice and learn good judgment by climbing trees at age eight, or that can wait until they are 16 and behind the wheel of a car. Either way, that learning must occur if a child is to be well-equipped to face the on-going dangers and challenges of adult life.