Adventurous play

One of our very favourite parks just got more dangerous – and we couldn’t be happier. Perhaps I should change the word dangerous to challenging, because it would most certainly have been through all the required health and safety checks.

We’ve been visiting Rocket Park since our children were tiny. As its name suggests, it’s dominated by a large rocket. I’ve often heard parents reminisce about their childhoods, and the days you could climb to the very top of the rocket and feel like Auckland’s coolest astronaut. But sometime between their childhood any my own children’s arrival, the rocket was closed and it became a showpiece only.

My friends and I lamented that changing attitudes to kids and safety meant that it would probably never be opened again. But last weekend, thanks to a solid few weeks of structural work and a new screen wrapped around the outside, the rocket was open for boarding once again.

It was chaos of course. All weekend children teamed up and down the ladders, excited beyond belief at their new freedom. It was potentially precarious with just one ladder connected the three levels. But as my daughter pointed out, “The children knew what to do”. Most of the time, they waited their turn, and let the smallest children go first.

I have to be honest and say in our family, I’m the one most likely to be tempted by the cotton-wool approach to parenting, and to be the one at the bottom of the tree saying, “Be careful up there”. But I’m getting better and I truly believe that adventurous play helps children learn how to handle risks.

Children were taking risks climbing the rocket, but it was under supervision, not just by their parents, but – just as importantly – by the children they were playing alongside. Parenting expert Diane Levy puts it perfectly: “Rather than us always doing the teaching, it’s great for children to learn by example from those just a little bit ahead of themselves. Instead of an adult trying to get a child to learn a seemingly impossible skill, if our child can watch another, of the same age or just a little bit older half-way up the climbing frame, it suddenly seems possible for them to do it.”