"Don't go up the slide!" There are certain sentences that are frequently spoken by teachers of young children and this is one I hear repeatedly when I'm observing in outdoor learning environments. So, why do children enjoy climbing up the slide? I decided I was going to do some informal research on this matter. During a 45 minute observation, I noted two children going down the slide and eight children attempting to climb up the slide (despite frequent redirection from the teachers). Why? Children are looking for physical challenge in outdoor spaces. Think about the challenge required for a child to move down a slide--there is none. Now, consider the challenge involved in a child climbing up a slide---they need to use upper body strength to propel their legs up the slide--far more challenging.
We need to add risk and challenge to our outdoor spaces. Yet, we know this is a generation of parents that prefer their children "bubble-wrapped" so their opportunities to experience risk and challenge are limited. In September 2016, the International School Grounds Alliance published a document that includes these statements, "Caution, resilience, courage, knowledge about one's own abilities and limitations and self-confidence to reach beyond them are learned through self-chosen action. Since the world is full of risks, children need to learn to recognize and respond to them in order to protect themselves and to develop their own risk assessment capabilities."
Here are some options for adding challenge to your outdoor environments:
1. Reverse the rules on the slide for certain days: Allow children to climb up the slide!
2. Give children more options: Add loose parts such as tree cookies/slices or landscape pavers for children to move about. This will aid in developing their core muscles.
3. Create circular pathways or obstacle courses so children can crawl, jump, twist and turn to develop vestibular and proprioception skills.
4. Add items that can be pushed and pulled such as pulleys, wheelbarrows and wagons.
5. Use statements such as, "I wonder how you can safely do that" to allow children to examine risk factors.