Research by Sandseter in Norwegian playgrounds have shown children have an evolutionary sensory need to taste danger in play. Have a look at this “wild playground”
where children are encouraged to play with all the things parents would consider too risky. If a 10 year old lit a fire in and American playground someone would call the police and then take the child for councelling. In “Land” a playground in Wales; playing with fire is positively encouraged. The research by Sandseter suggests children need 6 types of play.
(1) Exploring heights, or getting the “bird’s perspective,” as she calls it—“high enough to evoke the sensation of fear.” (2) Handling dangerous tools—using sharp scissors or knives, or heavy hammers that at first seem unmanageable but that kids learn to master. (3) Being near dangerous elements—playing near vast bodies of water, or near a fire, so kids are aware that there is danger nearby. (4) Rough-and-tumble play—wrestling, play-fighting—so kids learn to negotiate aggression and cooperation. (5) Speed—cycling or skiing at a pace that feels too fast. (6) Exploring on one’s own.
This last one Sandseter describes as “the most important for the children when they are left alone and can take full responsibility for their actions, and the consequences of their decisions, it’s a thrilling experience.”
If we don’t let our children play riskily then they will seek the thrills elsewhere. Something for all of us to think about!