Lisa Kennedy

Jumping, Leaping, Swinging, Tagging … Climbing, Crawling, Sliding … The Amazing Risks We Took As Kids

Believe it or not, the actions listed in the title of this blog, once deemed innocent, carefree play, are now considered to be “risk taking” activities for children. Movements such as these allow children to understand and develop their physical strength and coordination. Motor skills, problem-solving and resilience are all learned through play, if we allow a sense of adventure and unrestricted movement.

Free and unstructured play give children the opportunity to create their own boundaries, develop relational skills with others, understand and extend their own physical strength and learn to function without overt adult supervision.  To better navigate the world around them, children need to practice risk assessment. This includes thinking through outcomes, developing creative solutions and implementing options to evaluate the results.

SPARK! is a facility designed for “older” children to learn the creative process. Our goal is to provide them the opportunities to develop and strengthen their motor skills. Research shows that around the age of six or seven, children are honing these skills, assessing minimal risk, and engaging in a process designed to produce an outcome. At SPARK! we engage the physical needs of growth through our Climb, Crawl, Slide Sculpture. Instead of using soft materials, we introduce the kids to steel, wood, hard surfaces, elevated climbs, steep slides and dark, confined adventures. SPARK! offers a minimal amount of risk so children can explore and consider their own physical limitations.  

Dr. Lala Manners in Articles Teaching and Learning shares, “Physical experience informs bodily knowledge that leads to physical maturity and the optimum use of skills across all the environments children experience and encounter.”

We want our children to be mentally strong. However, in today’s world, we’re removing all physical risk and depriving children of the opportunity to develop critical motor skills. Since the 1970’s, concerned parents and educators have been removing risk, sanitizing playgrounds and promoting more sedentary learning.  

In her book Balanced and Barefoot, Angela Hanscom, a pediatric occupational therapist, says, “When children are allowed to take reasonable risks, they actually become safer. Through the risks they take, they develop a better ability to assess risk, use critical thinking, and to troubleshoot when problems arise.”

There’s a big difference between danger and risk. Don’t be afraid to let your kids take risks. SPARK! provides a safe way for them to experience risky play. We promote learning through the creative process and physical movement. Our field trip students engage in play which allows them to push their own physical boundaries, promotes a sense of adventure and allows for unstructured discovery. This experience prepares them both mentally and physically to engage in hands-on practice through the creative process.  It also helps burn-off some of the abundant energy that young kids have and enables them to focus on the task at hand. 

Creativity and Childhood Self-Esteem

To set the stage for this blog, I want to put forth a definition of the subject at hand:  Self-esteem. By this we mean self-respect, or a confidence and satisfaction with oneself.   

Self-esteem is not a fixed measure. It ebbs and flows with time and experiences.  Each of us has our own self-esteem metric for various aspects of our being. At SPARK! we focus on the self-esteem that exists in a child. It is the gauge of their ability to learn, grow, create, problem-solve and perform in the world.

InMinding the Muse,” a book about creativity, author Priscilla Long shares, “Improving self-esteem is a matter of taking regular steps, no matter how small, to set goals to achieve what you intend to achieve ….”  

At SPARK! our teaching of the creative process helps children set goals, envision outcomes and take the steps needed to achieve that outcome.  Our proprietary definition of the creative process is Inspiration with Iteration and Collaboration leads to Innovation.  Inspiration is the impetus to start a project. Collaboration and Iteration are two valuable steps in working through trial, error and even failure. Lastly, the desired outcome is achieving Innovation.

Based on research around creative development, SPARK! programming focuses on children ages 7 -18.  During the early teen years, kids have a tough time figuring out who they are and where they fit in the world.  Helping them develop their creativity and their self-esteem can help smooth out some of the bumps in their path through puberty.  While boys and girls are quite different, their path through creativity can be similar.

“Challenge boys and allow them to develop skills. You throw boys as a group into a very challenging situation, and let them figure it out and find their own leadership. They’ll come back thinking, ‘We did it. We did it.’”   Michael Thompson, PhD, coauthor of Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys.  “It involves creating a situation in which they can develop a skill and, as a result, will have self-esteem.”

Claire Shipman and Katty Kay, authors of The Confidence Code for Girls, surveyed 1,300 girls between the ages of 8 and 18.  Among the findings is a startling desire to be perfect.  At age 13, 45% of girls report feeling like they’re not allowed to fail.  Over half of teenage girls report pressure to be perfect. When this research was published in The Atlantic, the answer seemed to be getting girls accustomed to risk-taking and failure.

Engaging in the creative process meets the need for boys and girls.  It provides challenges, allows for risk taking and room for failure. It helps them persevere to accomplish work of which they can be proud.