Are we harming our kids by restricting the amount of free outdoor play that they enjoy? That’s the question that Angela Hanscom, a pediatric occupational therapist, explores in her book Balanced and Barefoot. Some have coined the term “risky play” to describe the unstructured play that Hanscom discusses. But, for me, this concept brought to mind the benefits associated with unplugged travel with kids.
I have the opportunity to see families blossom during unplugged family vacations on a regular basis. Unscheduled, unscripted time spent outdoors definitely comes with incredible benefits for kids. Let’s explore how the concept of risky play in early childhood helps children grow.
Adventure for Kids
But instead of referring to it as risky play, I agree with Albi Sole: “When we talk about advocating for healthy, balanced play time for kids let’s lose the word risk and focus instead on adventure.” After all, risk comes with negative connotations such as “hazard” and being “in harm’s way.” We’re not talking about dangerous activities here. We’re talking about enjoying the benefits of taking chances and trying new things. So, let’s think about it as adventurous play.
Here’s what Hanscom has to say about adventurous play, “When a child takes a risk, such as riding a bike for the first time, it can be frightening. At the same time, the child is learning to overcome that fear to reach a goal. In the process of learning to ride a bike successfully, the child learns patience, perseverance, and resilience—skills essential for success with relationships, school, and work experiences later in life.”
Sometimes Kids Know Best
Unfortunately, many adults today restrict kids’ natural movement tendencies to keep them “safe.” Schools fear playground accidents, and so some go so far as to ban spinning on swings, hanging on monkey bars, and rolling down hills—all activities we survived and thrived on as children.
It’s not that we should put kids in dangerous situations. But if we never give them the opportunity to feel brave, how can they build up the natural reserve of courage that they’ll need to get through life? If we structure every aspect of their play, how will they express their curiosity and creativity? How will they learn to experiment in the natural world?
Although adults may assume they know what’s best when it comes to kids, sometimes we need to let go. We need to understand that a child’s neurological system is attracted to the kinds of play and sensory input that it needs to continue developing. When kids build sand castles, they’re developing important life skills. When kids catch insects, that’s fulfilling a particular sensory input need. When kids feel the urge to play in the mud, we need to let them.
Unplugged Travel with Kids
Although letting kids engage in adventurous play might feel scary at first, it’s crucial to their development. Risk-taking enhances their senses and helps them overcome physical challenges. It allows them to face their fears and conquer anxiety. Taking chances allows kids to gain new confidence and capability. Children need opportunities to fail, to problem solve, and to learn from mistakes without the intervention of adults.
Unplugged family adventures help because they build unstructured play and new adventures into every leg of the journey. Unplugged travel allows kids to experience new cultures, languages, foods, and challenges. Letting kids step outside of their comfort zones—whether it’s braving the Amazon rainforest on a boat, whitewater rafting in Sarapiqui or snorkeling with sea lions in Baja—fortifies their resilience and strengthens their positive self-image. These moments make for happier, healthier, calmer children who also prove more attentive and less accident prone.
We’re Here to Help
Interested in learning more about unplugged travel with kids? At Our Whole Village, raising globally-minded children is our passion. We create accessible tours designed for families who want to create lasting memories while making a difference.
We’re here to help you and your family experience the world, its peoples, and its cultures. Contact us today to learn more about the unforgettable experiences that we handcraft to introduce kids to the world and create better global citizens.