My son loves to jump. He is exceptional at finding launching surfaces that provide him the opportunity to challenge gravity’s hold on his feet. I remember the day when he decided to test out jumping from the third step on the playground. The ground beneath covered with mulch but, he looked so small to be making such a big jump. As he lifted his arms to the sky and his knees bent, I took deep breath watching him get ready to fly. My spouse on the other hand was a second away from saying, “that’s not safe, get down.”
Before the words could be uttered, our son jumped, landed on both feet, and then began spinning around. Another child directly behind him yelled out, “That was awesome! Five points for both feet.” Suddenly, the two of them were setting rules for how to earn points while jumping. 5 points for both feet, 1 point if your hand touched the ground, a hundred points if they both did it together at the same time and stuck the landing. His parents and I made eye contact, smiled, gave a shrug of the shoulders, and continued to watch. My spouse, again, on the other hand, was now looking at the sky and letting out a deep sigh of relief.
As the children continued to play, I asked my spouse about the warning cry he was about to utter. He expressed his concern about him falling and that the steps seemed too high. I shared with him that generally, you can check the “critical height” of play equipment outdoors and I showed him the sticker on the side of the equipment. The space he was jumping from was well mulched and for our son’s height had more than enough protection because of mulch. This made me realize something, I knew about this and could show my spouse were to find this but, I wondered how many other caregivers knew where to find this information. If you are curious about playground safety and platform guidelines click here for the Public Playground Safety Handbook from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission .
This additional piece of information helped, but my spouse still told me after I showed him the equipment safety suggestions that watching our son jump felt like a lifetime. In reality, the exchange was only about 5-10 minutes. Eventually, the game stopped and the children choose to go over to slope on the other side of the playground and began rolling down it. Sometimes they bumped into each other, but their faces were smiling and laughing as they rolled. We have continued to talk about this feeling of hesitation or being uncomfortable watching our child engage in this rough and tumble play. This feeling is not unusual among adults. Author, Frances Carlson addresses adult’s uneasiness with this type of play in her book Big Body Play; Why boisterous, vigorous, and very physical play is essential to children’s development and learning.
She shares that adults and educators are typically motivated to reduce or hinder this type of play out of fear for the following reasons:
All reasonable and understandable fears. I, as a parent, that day, felt all of those fears too. Perhaps not as strongly as my spouse did, but when I reflect on my teaching days, I likely responded more like my spouse did. Ensuring children’s safety and well-being was paramount. However, I’ve grown in my understanding of how to support children’s exploration into big body play. I went back and re-read the chapter on how to support this type of play while balancing the safety concerns. The readings confirmed while some risk of injury is possible any time when children engage in physical play or explore outdoor spaces like playgrounds, the risk is minimal. Adults can set safe limits by setting clear expectations and ground rules, supervising or joining in on the play, and helping young children recognize their limits. Following the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s playground, public safety and fall height recommendations are another strategy to prevent life-threatening falls or injuries in both outdoor and indoor spaces.
Carlson further addresses adult’s reservations by providing concrete ideas and examples such as encourage children to:
5. Climb on structures
7. Broad jump
8. Jump from heights
Again, this type of boisterous play and physical activity has its benefits. Children who are physically active reduce their risk of becoming overweight or obese. That is because early childhood is an ideal time to establish children’s healthy attitude towards the adoption of health and wellness.
We continue to watch our son test out his jumping skills while he is at the playground. Now he has moved on to running, hopping, and skipping around the loop of the playground. He still likes to test out that third step. Before we leave the playground, he still asks, “Can I jump off that step one more time?”
If you are interested in learning more about Big Body Play, you can check out this webinar.
Accelerating Progress to Reduce Childhood Obesity. (2021, March 24). Retrieved April 01, 2021, from https://www.nccor.org/
Carlson, Frances M. (2011). Big Body Play: Why Boisterous, Vigorous, and Very Physical Play Is Essential to Children’s Development and Learning, by Frances M. Carlson. National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Young Children: Journal of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, 69:5 (Nov 2014), pp. 36-42.
LINDA REDDISH, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD
Peer Reviewed by Jaci Foged and Lynn DeVries Extension Educators, The Learning Child
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