We need to let children evaluate risk. I don’t mean this is something that is kind of a good idea sometimes, I mean we have to start doing this. Our brains cannot develop unless our bodies are exposed to complex challenges. Children need to push their limits in their physical world. They need spontaneous movement, puddles to jump in, uneven logs to step between, trees and ropes to climb up, and things to practice balancing on.
Children’s natural mental processes need to have unrestricted movement in order to form correctly. The more we have children sitting in rigid seats and playing in man-made environments, the more injustice we do.
It can be very difficult to watch a child climb something that is hard or scary for them and not offer to help. All parents panic a little when they see a young child build an unstable bridge and then try to walk across it. However, children need to be presented with the opportunities, allowed to assess the risk, and possibly be unsuccessful in accomplishing their goals. The more complex tasks children are given, the better their health is. Research show that children brains create more nerve cells and have healthier biomedical reactions when given these opportunities. When our muscles are active, they stimulate our brains. The literal thickness of our cortex and complexity of our brain connections are changed for the better by allowing children to move freely.
If children are given a sensory or movement activity for just 15 – 30 seconds every 20 minutes throughout the day, they have significantly higher test scores. Our brains are formed by movement.
Beyond brain development, children need to create their own challenges. If children are only presented with environments which do not challenge them, they often decide it isn’t worth it and they move to create their own challenges – often creating unsafe situations and bullying behaviors– or they turn away from the space altogether and turn to screen-based options like video games and television.
Children need to be given opportunities to self-organize, problem solve, create, collaborate and experiment.