Is It Our Fears That Are Stopping Kids? A Self-Reg Look At Risky Play

Is It Our Fears That Are Stopping Kids? A Self-Reg Look At Risky Play

The snowfall over the winter holidays led to lots of amazing snow structures at our school. One morning, when we made our way out to the forest to play, students saw this structure that a group of junior students had made on the playground. They were eager to go over to it and play. Initially, only a couple of students went, but before long, the structure was full of children from both Kindergarten classes.

I will admit that I was initially tempted to shut down the sliding. We spoke recently as a staff about the safety concerns with sliding down hills, and I wondered if the same concerns existed for sliding down snowballsbut I decided to resist the temptation to intervene and stand back and watch instead. This wasn’t easy to do. Adults like structure. We like organization. I had to really watch and listen to see the organization in what initially appeared chaotic. 

  • Students determined ways to accommodate each other.
  • The students created different roles so that they could all engage in the play.
  • They discussed safety concerns and brainstormed ways to stay safe. 

While I asked some questions to help clarify thinking, I actually gave very little direction to the children in this space. I just stood close by and watched closely. I loved seeing students that were initially reluctant to participate trying something new. And I loved listening to children supporting their friends in doing so.

There was so much joy and problem-solving in this space, and it makes me sad to think that I was tempted to shut it down. So while the slippery climb to the top of the snowball hill made me a little nervous, I took many deep breaths and focused on the positive experiences and maturity demonstrated on this snowball structure. What might have been lost for these kids if I’d told them to “get off the hill?”

As adults, we don’t always have the easiest decisions to make, and safety is often a huge factor in our decisions. What we view as “safe” may vary from what a four- or five-year-old deems “safe.” But are we always right? Thinking back to my childhood, I remember many fun-filled winter days tobogganing with my sister and my mom and even exploring the big blocks of ice together out in the park and on the field. As an adult, I worry about trips, slips, falls, and cuts, but as a child, I got to learn the value in taking some safe risks. I thought about this same topic on Friday when I watched the kids play on stumps outside in the rain. I tried to quiet my own worries and see the benefits in what these kids were doing.

In Stuart Shanker‘s Calm, Alert, And Learning, he talks about the value in obstacle courses for self-regulation. I’ll admit that these courses often terrify me, despite being good for many kids. My experiences over the past week make me wonder about the impact that our stressors may have on children, and if our ability to self-regulate may ultimately provide kids with different experiences that allow them to do the same. Is every safety concern we have actually a big problem, or would some deep breaths and a little more watching and listening time change our views? I wonder how frequently our fears prevent opportunities for children, and if it’s time to make some changes.

Aviva Dunsiger has been the Portal Plus Moderator for over a year now and completed the Foundations 1 Certification Program. She has taught everything from Kindergarten to Grade 6 and enjoys blogging about her teaching and learning experiences. She blogs professionally on her blog, Living Avivaloca. Aviva is excited to contribute a monthly post on The MEHRIT Centre Blog.

By | 2018-01-15T11:57:09+00:00 January 17th, 2018|


  1. […] It’s never an easy decision to trust our kids–especially because sometimes, they truly are not yet ready for certain responsibilities. But we need to be careful that when these decisions arise, we do not choose on a basis of fear. As my friend Aviva Dunsinger recently wrote, […]

  2. Susan Hopkins January 17, 2018 at 8:37 pm - Reply

    Another terrific blog Aviva. I just loved the pictures and the joy clearly evident on the children’s faces. This was a day they will remember. It brought to mind the issue of not just risk but as teacher’s letting go of control and how hard that can be sometimes. I remember you told me a story a couple of years ago about a plan you had for a project involving your K’s and a chain link fence, but they took it in another direction. Remind me how that one went again will you?

    • Aviva Dunsiger January 17, 2018 at 8:47 pm - Reply

      Thanks for your comment, Susan! What a great point about teacher control. This is a hard one, and a topic that my teaching partner and I discuss frequently. The connection you made is an example that often comes to mind for me. At the time, I was teaching at another school, and our kids loved music. My teaching partner and I saw many photographs of musical fences: where you tie found items onto a fence that children can play. We thought that this would be a fun and enjoyable option for our kids, and we decided to make the musical fence with them. Every time that we tied an item onto the fence though, they took it off to play. Many children decided to create a marching band instead of tying any items to the fence. At one point, I was tempted to say, “But they go on the fence,” but then I wondered, “Why is that important?” Does it really matter, and could this other option be giving kids more of what they need (i.e., the physical movement along with the musical experience)? We decided to let go and let the kids do what they wanted with the found items, and it led to a much richer experience for them.


  3. Susan Hopkins January 17, 2018 at 8:57 pm - Reply

    I laughed when I read the words you almost said, “But they go on the fence.” Any teacher who has ever put her (or his) heart into the design of an environment or learning experience that students took in a completely different direction can relate, I bet. And then afterwards you feel guilty for having a thought like this as you quickly remember whose reality counts – theirs! Teachers are #ohSOhuman too!

    • Aviva Dunsiger January 17, 2018 at 9:27 pm - Reply

      Thanks Susan! It’s true. When we have a plan, and the kids take it in a different direction, that can be hard. Remembering though, as you said, “whose reality counts” is so important. It’s actually something that I’ve thought about even more as I’ve learned more about Self-Reg.


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