Taking Risks at Miquon

By Kristin Sanderson

October 31, 2013

My perception has expanded. I see more deeply as I walk around Miquon at choice time.  Children from Rossana and Rich’s groups race back and forth across the creek with building materials, and lever and haul heavy rocks to their muddy homes in Monkeyland.  Some of Sarah and Hilary’s children have joined in the fort building, but they are also leaping across logs and up and around the metal climbers in a game of tag.  A few girls walk across the monkey bars as if it is a tightrope and one hangs upside down.   Self directed, freely expressed, intrinsically motivated, the children are at play and there is a great up-swelling of joy around campus.

But these days, since attending the play conference at Bryn Mawr College, I perceive that children successfully negotiating risks is a huge piece of the palpable spirit around me.  They are challenging their bodies and their balance and their problem solving skills, while mustering enormous courage to get to that place on (or under!) the monkeybars.  Joan Almon from the Alliance for Childhood highlights children’s innate ability to do their own risk/benefit analysis during play.  She has studied Adventure Playgrounds that have a lot in common with our campus – open-ended materials and structures intentionally provided to encourage exploration. Almon writes, “As children grow, they embrace risk as a natural part of life and develop a finely tuned sense for risk assessment, an essential skill for survival.”*  Risk is a crucial ingredient in the kind of play that supports healthy development.

But it is not always easy for adults.  Our job is to create an environment that allows developmentally appropriate challenges which are free of hidden hazards, but we must allow risk into our children’s lives so that they learn for themselves what, how, and when they are ready to master it.  One of our goals at Miquon is to nurture a child’s own sense of judgment.  Independent play provides children authentic, un-brokered feedback from the environment that hones and improves that ability.

I, myself, will have to consciously remember to support healthy risk taking when the first frost arrives.  Because, it is on that morning that the children, who are here before the morning bell rings, love to “skate” on the thin layer of ice coating the play barn stage.  It is easy for me to imagine a fall (likely due to a few too many of my own at the rink) and I forget that children are good judges of their own capacities.  Knowing the research and remembering Miquon’s long tradition of the successful expressions of these freedoms are helpful.  In fact, when the playbarn was first built, children immediately were drawn to climb its heights.  A rule had to be created when Josh McIlvain ’82 was observed, one too many times, walking across the very top beam.  Josh now lives back in Mt Airy and is a prolific playwright.  What he learned from the top beam is now expressed in his being unafraid to put his creative work in front of people, push the envelope with content, and develop innumerable imaginative and compelling projects.  He is also a pretty happy, well-balanced, guy and likes to give playing at Miquon a lot of credit for that.

*Adventure:  The Value of Risk in Children’s Play p 11


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