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Reasonable Risks

“Why do you have your sneakers on?” I asked my son the other evening. It was about 5:30 pm and I’d just gotten home from my work with Head Start teachers.  I then realized he was standing by the front door with his baseball glove on his hand. His twin brother came up beside him, also geared up with sneakers, a glove and a ball. They were ready to go play catch. It was dark and quite cold outside, and my dad looked a bit surprised when I said to my seven-year-olds, “Okay, go ahead. Have fun while I make dinner.”

Playing outside in the dark is something they usually only get to do in the summertime – and usually with cousins. Playing outside in the dark and the cold – just the two of them, was not something they’d ever asked to do before. I was thrilled mainly because they weren’t playing with LEGOs or reading. Yes, I know, playing with LEGOs and reading are two perfectly fine activities. Wonderful activities actually. Especially when the LEGOs are not media-linked (think Sponge Bob and Harry Potter). However, too much of a good thing can turn into a bad thing. I’ve actually been thinking lately that the boys play with LEGOs too much, and are reading too much, at the expense of other things – especially active, outdoor play.

So, I was thrilled the other day when they picked up their gloves and started playing catch in their playroom. And even more thrilled when playing catch indoors led them to want to play catch outdoors.  This is a habit I’d like to encourage. So yes, it was dark and it was cold and they were playing alone outside. A reasonable risk I decided.

At one point – dinner wasn’t ready yet – they rang the doorbell. I was afraid they were ready to come back in. Nope. They just needed a flashlight – could I get one for them? You see, the ball had inadvertently gone into the woods. (The kids call it “the woods” though it is more like a grove, actually.) “Where are your flashlights?” I asked. “Under or near our pillows,” they said. (I guess it was a silly question. Where else would a seven-year-old boy keep a flashlight? Especially when his pillow and sleeping bag are in a tent on the floor in his bedroom – where they have been since late August when school started up again.)

Yup, I found their flashlights for them, and with no more questions asked, sent the boys back outside. I checked out the window a few minutes later, and they had retrieved the ball and were back in the driveway happily playing catch under the motion-activated spotlight. A lovely sight which made me smile. Oh, and did I mention that only one of them had a coat on?

On a related note, I am also contemplating the purchase of the book Fifty Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do) by Gever Tulley and Julie Spiegler. When I looked at the list, so many of the things I had tried as a kid: Climb a tree, walk home from school, drive a nail, lick a 9 volt battery, stick your hand out the window, burn things with a magnifying glass . . . you get the idea. When I was growing up, from first through eighth grade, I walked to and from school everyday. It was always an adventure with a mixed-age group of kids. Also, I can still feel and taste that acidic little shock from the 9 volt, and remember the smell of the burning leaf when I got the angle of the sun just-so with the magnifying glass. Really fun stuff, when you get right down to it. And, truth be told, I still like to stick my arm out of the car window now and again.

Here’s to letting our kids take reasonable risks.

(And a big P.S. Thanks to Lenore Skenazy for leading the charge!)

2 comments to Reasonable Risks

  • Ann

    When I was 5 (in the late 70s), I pestered my dad so much during a blizzard that, after consulting with my mother, he finally agreed to let me out. It was dark and the wind was blowing the snow around something fierce, so he tied the washing line to my waist and another rope to my younger brother’s waist and sent us out while he stood in the sidedoor with the lines.

    My brother made it as far as the edge of the house, maybe 20 feet, before turning back. I made it all the way to the garage, about 60 feet and was quite happily ‘building’ a snow fort by tunneling in a drift when my dad became concerned and dragged me back into the house.

    I guess he and my mother thought I’d learn a lesson about actions and consequences. What they learned was that I was ridiculously stubborn and didn’t have a lot of sense when I got an idea in my head. :) It’s a treasured memory now though and a story that the family loves to tell.

  • That is a great story! Thanks for sharing, Ann.

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