Risky Play

Have you ever found yourself enjoying a nice cup of tea and watching the morning news in peace when suddenly a pint-sized person jumps from the arm of the couch into your unsuspecting face?

Children love risky play, especially my children. They are constantly looking for ways to increase the thrill of the game, even if it means sacrificing safety. The purpose (other than to give me a heart attack) is to increase the fun and explore the rules of their environment.


A Learning Technique

Risky play is a learning technique – what I mean by this is that when children are engaging in risky play, they are conducting a science experiment (without knowing it). They are using reasoning and chance, as scary as it is, to determine what they are comfortable with, and what their bodies and environment will allow.


Benefits of Risk

Risk management skills, along with self-confidence, resilience, and reducing the chance of injury, are all learnings a child gains from engaging in risky play.

I know what you are about to ask; how can risky play reduce the chance of injury? The science tells us that those children who engage is risky play have a much greater understanding of what is likely to cause injury. A child that has continually experimented with tree climbing knows the best routes to take, which trees are safe to climb, and how to go back the way they came.

If you had never climbed a tree as a small child and then are asked to climb one as an adult, your body, being longer and stronger, would allow you to climb to the top without difficulty. But now you’re in a pickle because you’re at the top of a tree and don’t know how to get down. A child can only climb as high as his or her body and environment allows, not to the top. They take small steps as they mature, pushing themselves just as much as is allowable.


A Young Life Without Risk

Risky play certainly seems dangerous and it can result in injury, so why hasn’t natural selection weeded it out?

Experiments have been done on rats to deprive them of risky play and the outcome was less than appealing. The researchers did not deprive them of other types of socializing, just risky play, and they found that the rats grew up emotionally crippled. When faced with the unknown, instead of showing curiosity and adaptability like their risky play counterparts, the emotionally crippled rats would seize up in fear or lash out with aggression (click here). Not a rat-ical way to grow up.

On the flipside, the science has shown that risky play has quite the evolutionary advantage. I’m sure everyone can recall their puppy or kitten play wrestling with them or another animal. Perhaps to wolf cubs, this is practice for later squabbles over meals. Monkeys will leap for branches that are just within reach, pushing themselves further and further each time. This experience will certainly come in handy when leaping away from challengers. Certainly one of the most perilous types of risky play can be seen in mountain goats (kids) that frolic on incredibly steep, rocky slopes. Undoubtedly this will make them hard prey to catch. All animals engage in risky play and it benefits them tremendously.

Freedom + Fear = Thrill (Danger)

So now that we are all aware that risky play is a benefitting activity to engage in, should we just let our youngsters have at it – absolutely not. There are still real dangers in hazardous play (which often accompanies risky play), so parents have to be vigilant in identifying and removing the hazards.

Risk – The possibility of something happening

Hazard – A potential source of danger

Hazards are often beyond a child’s ability to recognize. Risks are uncertainties that a child often recognizes and challenges (click here).

Back to our lovely tree example, the child sees a challenge and is uncertain about what will happen if they climb to a certain branch. What the child does not recognize is that the branch they’ve chosen to climb to has rotted out – a hazard the parent needs to control. Removing the hazard can be done by removing the branch, or, even better, teaching the child how to recognize rotted branches. By controlling the hazards, the child is still able to engage in risky play without an increase in the chance of injury.

Risk now equals hazards divided by parental safeguards.


Risky Play in Your Community

I love the tree examples I’ve shared with you but when I look around the current area where I’ve chosen to raise my family, not many trees pop out to say “climb me.”

Living in a city rather than countryside can seem a little challenging when it comes to engaging in risky play, but it’s important to note that risky play hotspots can be found anywhere! Your local park, your backyard, your living room – anywhere! When it was too cold and slippery outside for hazardless risky play, my family and I set up an obstacle course throughout the house. My preschooler would run and jump from chair to chair and my toddler would bound into piles of pillows. When we play in the backyard, my kids love to use the short beam surrounding my yard to perfect their gymnastic skills. The chance of a small drop to the grassy lawn below certainly livens up the game! And local parks encourage plenty of risky play activities with its monkey bars, twisty slides, and swings. All you have to do to be a vigilant parent in these scenarios is to remove debris, check for the correct signage for safety standards, and be a helping hand when your child needs it!

To find out more on how Canada is improving your child’s access to independent and unstructured outdoor play, click here.


Last Note on Inspiring Yourself

“Security is mostly a superstition. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” — Helen Keller


Please feel free to leave a comment or story about the risks you and your child take together!

Kids and Colours

A friend of mine recently had his first baby and, in his new excitement of being a father, he introduced me to a phenomenon between children and colours. Until now, I hadn’t heard of the different effects colours had on people and was intrigued when he told me that colours could affect children’s moods, even enough to make them go to sleep on time or eat their broccoli. The book he introduced me to is called Start Smart: Building Brain Power in the Early Years by Pam Schiller.

To sum up, Schiller describes how colours can enhance learning and influence mood; she gives her insight as to which colours can do what to children and how colours can be used in a classroom or at home to build brain power (not to mention help parents out too).

A chart from the book indicates the following colours can have these effects:

Red The colour red can create alertness and excitement. It usually encourages creativity and appetite. This colour can also be disturbing to anxious individuals.

Blue Blue can create a sense of well-being and lower a person’s temperature.

Sky blue is especially tranquilizing. Blue also has the effect of decreasing appetite.

Yellow This colour is the optimal colour for maintaining attention and encouraging creativity. It also creates a positive feeling.

Orange Orange can increase alertness.

Green Green creates a feeling of calmness.

Purple Purple also creates a feeling of calmness.

Brown The colour brown can increase the sense of security and relaxation. It also has the effect of reducing fatigue.

Off-white This colour can create positive feelings and help maintain attention.
Over the last couple of weeks, I decided to implement this new knowledge in the lives of my kids, but before busting out the paint to colour the walls of my boys’ room, I thought it would be best to perform some harmless experiments to see if Schiller’s findings applied to our lives as well.

Red – I started putting red napkins (in lieu of red placemats) under my children’s’ plates during meals. My kids did eat slightly more food without the continual prompting but my youngest son, Polar Bear, did proceed to tear the napkin into shreds and attempt to eat it. I also introduced a red ball into the playroom. Both children love this new ball and it’s the first one they go for when playing catch. It may be that it is the “new toy” and the other balls just don’t cut it anymore.

Blue – This experiment was exercised by taking my boys for walks outside. It is true that we take walks outdoors all the time but this time I monitored the children on clear, sky blue days. They did seem to be calmer during this activity. It could also have been the fresh air, but my children seemed to argue a lot less when they were outside, often sharing toys and throwing less tantrums.

Yellow and off-white – Schiller’s book portrays these colours as being the best for a school classroom as they have properties to increase and maintain attention. I used yellow during book time to help my children keep their little hands and bodies still while I read to them. I chose only books with yellow jackets which seemed to do the trick (although they may have just been used to the routine). I also broke out an off-white colouring book and provided only yellow crayons to my older son, Grizzly Bear. He did spend a little longer working on his colouring than normal which was a breakthrough since he doesn’t enjoy art and crafts that much.

Orange – Like red, this colour did bring a new level of alertness to my children’s lives when I brought home pumpkins this Halloween. They both became enthralled by the activity and had no issues zeroing in on the activity, diving into the fun and destroying the kitchen. Admittedly this could have something to do with children loving messy play, but it may have been the colour orange too.

Green and purple – Admittedly I did not use the colour purple for any experiments, but I did use green. I set up a green coloured canopy in their room and laid them under it for nap and bedtimes. They seemed to enjoy the canopy and stare at it. My Grizzly Bear continually asked what it was and why it was there, but he did fall asleep faster each night the week that it was up. I also put on nature documentaries for my children (this wasn’t an experiment, just something I do regularly). I did take note that my kids (and I) became calmer and happier when rainforests and oceans dominated the scenery.

Brown – I did not introduce this colour to my children as an experiment but I did take a look at my own life and the influence brown has on it. I noticed that many houses on my street are brown and wondered if the colour choice by the developer was intentional. I also noticed that my parents’ vehicle is brown, and I do feel quite safe when in it, although that may be because my Dad is often the driver.

These little activities and experiments were fun to complete and entertaining for my children. While I still don’t know if I’m a believer, I did notice a few times that colours really did have different effects on my children (although hunger and exhaustion did trump most effects). All in all, perhaps I will take the plunge to paint the walls green with a tranquilizing blue ceiling!

Mom of a “Boys Club”

As many women do when finding out the sex of their babies, I experienced a level of gender disappointment. My first child’s gender was a mystery during pregnancy. After the birth, I recall seeing a little willy and being slightly shocked that I had carried a boy for nine months without knowing it. During the 20 week ultrasound with my second pregnancy, we found out the gender.

My husband and I both felt the pains of realizing we would never have a daughter. Gender disappointment, to any level, makes parents feel guilty and ashamed to admit it. It’s not that the love you feel for a baby of either gender differs, it’s that the future you envisioned for your family is now a little different.

Growing up in a family of girls (and one boy), had me envisioning another family of girls. And even as I fell madly in love with my little boys, I felt a little apprehensive and like a fish out of water in this family of men. So, I took out some books on parenting boys and it turns out, I belong to a very special club, the Mom of Boys Club.

It turns out there were hundreds of books on being the mom of only boys, a little piece of knowledge that made my heart swell knowing that I was now part of a unique society. Additionally, each piece I read made me feel like I had special children, fiery children, children that make me look and feel stronger than I’ve ever been.

Ten Things I Love About Boys (and Being a Mom of Boys)

Boys are Fiery
As the picture leading you to this blog dictates, boys have a fiery disposition. Not that girls don’t have spirit too; I’ve seen many girls throw on a good show. But boys jump right into the middle of danger to right all wrongs. They grab their swords and fight to the death!

Pranks and Jokes
Sure, men sometimes forget to call their Moms on their birthdays. I used to worry about this when I had my boys but then I recalled all the random prank calls I get from my nephew. They are just hilarious and admittedly better than a birthday wish. Even my young boys tend to love playing jokes. My Grizzly Bear continuously hides under blankets and behind potted plants to jump out and scare passersby. As he gets older, I can’t wait to see what he comes up with.

Extra Tough Play
My boys are still really little yet they play rougher than I ever did at any age. It used to make me jump in and intervene (save the baby!) but as I live day to day watching them jump off couches on to their unsuspecting victims, I sit back and watch with pride. I know that I can protect them from the world, but not from their brother.

For extra info on why rough play is important for kids, visit TodaysParent:

The Protective Instinct
Boys are naturally protective. As we travel to the park daily, there is always the group of kids that want to pet our pup, Wylie. My Grizzly Bear plants his feet squarely and stands guard to supervise, continuously telling newcomers they have to be gentle.

The Gentle Touch
Boys can be surprisingly emotional and snuggly. The snuggles I get from my Polar Bear are just addictive. Plain and simply. He runs with open arms and collapses into my body. After MINUTES of just laying limply in my arms, he then nuzzles into my neck like a new puppy. Picking him up from dayhome is a tad embarrassing.

The Funny Noises They Make
Like anything with a digestive system, boys make horrifying sounds as gas passes through their bodies. The difference here is that instead of going red in the face and politely excusing oneself, boys burst into a fit of giggles and try to make it happen again. And again. And they egg each other on.

My House is Never Quiet
Along with their fiery spirit, boys never stop yelling. There’s never the gentle whisper that isn’t followed by the mischievous look in their eyes that lets you know they’re about to yell seconds after. In fact, if I tell them it’s quiet time, the volume just increases which makes it always feel like we’re having a party!

They Never Stop Moving
Back in my child free days, I worked weekends at KARA. The program always had about half a dozen girls and two boys. The Mom of these two boys now works at KARA too (Rosie) and I’ll never forget the smiles she tried to hide while pretending not to feel the floor shaking as her boys chased each other through the building. The girls, including myself, would all be colouring quietly and the entertainment would just be included for free without lifting a finger.

Boys Look Up to Their Dads
I’m sure everyone learns best through experience but I’m convinced the saying was made for young boys. Because they work hard to do what their Dad does and make him proud. With the amount of times I’ve tried to keep my youngsters out of the garage, where we keep all the tools, we’ve actually had to put up a baby gate so they can continually watch what he is making/doing. “No Mommy, I don’t want to see what you’re doing in the kitchen, just pass me that DeWalt pistol grip electric drill.”

Make Mom Look Like Superman
Lastly, when I step out of the house with two boys and a dog, I look like a superhero and get regular comments on it. “Wow, you have your hands full!” Passersby are always so impressed by me that it makes me feel good. And I know it’s true, I am a superhero.

So my boys are tough and strong and make me tough and strong. For a woman that has never belonged to a tough and strong club before, I’m glad to be part of the Mom of Boys Club.

My KARA Heros

Hello again, great to see you back! This week let’s dive into the KARA Summer Program; a fun-filled adventure around every corner, from great dinosaurs to the wild safari, every week has something different to offer!

If you weren’t aware, KARA has three locations; KARA, KARA-Too, and Dunluce Tenant Centre. Each of the addresses can be found on the KARA homepage or on the summer program calendar. Choose the location nearest you or attend all three!

The summer program calendar details the weekly themes for the free drop-in programs, held Tuesday through Thursday and Saturday, at varying times to accommodate those difficult nap schedules. Interspersed throughout the summer, we will be hosting field trips that are sure to inspire and wow your little ones, including nature centres, spray parks, and a dinosaur theme park!

When packing for these adventures, please remember necessities such as sunscreen, water bottles, hats, and comfortable shoes. Odd bits and pieces that may apply to your family may also include swim diapers, baby food, and extra changes of clothes. A light lunch will be served but if your children are anything like mine, it’s best to pack a mini fridge into your diaper bag.

Last summer, when KARA hosted a field trip to the Ukrainian Village, I attended as a Mom and hauled along my toddler (featured picture) and newborn baby. At first I felt like Mom of the Year. Look at me, strong and independent, on an outing with two young children and I can handle anything! As the day wore on, my children began to tire – and so did I! I’d try to keep my toddler’s spirits up with food, toys, and a happy singsong voice that made birds abandon their nests. All for not though, as I soon found out what being a Mom of a toddler will teach you if nothing else, very little can deter an impending temper tantrum.

At the time there was no mistaking the signs; the wobbly walk, the whimpering whines, the tearful eyes, and there it was. My son collapsed on the ground, his childlike, yet mighty voice thundering his displeasure. As I stood there at a loss, shocked with the task of consoling a two year old heap of emotions rolling on the grass in front of me while simultaneously holding an infant in my arms, in swooped my heroes. The KARA team took and cared for my newborn while I consoled my tired child, all the while putting the pieces of my dignity back together. It wasn’t so bad after all.

So if your child’s tantrums or behaviour in public places are the kind of moments you are dreading, deterring you from attending a field trip or program, fear not. We’ve all been there (and the ones that haven’t should give credit to where credit is due). Parenting isn’t easy. Mom of the Year goes to those that get out and about and if you attend KARA this summer, put your mind at ease. The KARA team has been there hundreds of times over and will be there for you too. Dignity and all.