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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 snowballs, but 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.