Somehow, in the last 10 years, safety has become such a buzz word and something adults pride themselves on paying attention to and something they feel is a non stop priority with children. But, I think it's important for all of us who are around children to be able to discern/distinguish between something that is truly unsafe vs. something that occurs (an accident or injury) through acquiring/developing a new skill. Furthermore, when an accident or injury happens through practice, it doesn't mean that we have to stay away from what 'hurt' us (or the child). We can always learn through things that don't go as expected, but I think we also have to be careful not to put undue limits on things just because an accident happened.
I went on a mission trip to Guatemala in April of 2016. I was moved on many levels with what I saw-extreme poverty, brokenness, and toxic stress for families and children who live in the slum area I spent time. Despite all of that, I was with a team of people who are loving on these folks, praying for them and providing an education for the sweet children. What amazed me most while we were walking the neighborhoods and praying for people is that the children were playing happily just like you would see in your own neighborhood. What the children were living around-garbage, homes made from whatever was available, broken items shocked me not because of my feelings that no child should have to live like that, but the fact they were able to keep themselves safe and were able to negotiate their surroundings. It inspired me to trust our kids more at school with more freedom of their space. What I am realizing is that we (adults/teachers/parents) view things as unsafe that actually aren't. So, rather than keeping our children from being hurt, we are bringing about anxiety and undue stress to situations. We are giving them eyes of fear and keeping them from discerning for themselves through awareness and an understanding of who they are what is safe and unsafe.
This past year, we literally took away all of our playground 'rules'. Instead, we observed and allowed the children to show us what was needed for a playground boundary. Guess what? Every rule we had (going one direction on the monkey bars, only climbing up the rope ramp, no running in the mulch area just to name a few) wasn't needed. The kids were able to work out differences and figure out what do in the moments there was a conflict or uncertainty. We typically said only 3 kids could be on the rock climbing wall, but the kids can determine if there is space for them based on who is on it at the moment. We also watched as younger children took risks based on their comfort level and their knowledge of their own limitations (NOT a rule that dictated for them)-it's AWESOME to see the kids learn about themselves, assess a situation and make decisions for themselves-as an individual. So many rules and so many fears go into the why and how we do things-particularly with children, which takes away opportunity for children to make decisions and take in information based on what they are doing for themselves. They HAVE to be able to do this when they are teenagers/adults so when they are young, they need time/space/trust to develop and practice. In a Montessori school, where teachers are trained to understand child development and to trust children as well as their innate intelligence and abilities, children are gifted time and space to develop these skills at their own pace and without the stress of an adult saying to them, 'be careful', 'don't go too far', 'don't go too high', 'stay over here where it's safe'.
I am learning to trust children more each day and what I am learning is that they have so much to show us and teach us. Adults need to step back and allow children to reveal themselves to us-in that waiting and watching, we are gifted the beauty of each child and what they are bringing to the world. I challenge all adults and parents to sit back and observe-take note and watch the unfolding. I promise you will be blessed and most likely brought to tears by the awe and wonder of children.