I rarely say “be careful” to my kids… only “concentrate” or “awareness…” (in a sterner voice). It’s the most effective way of getting them to slow down and think about what they are doing. I don’t want to make them fearful of what they are doing. Moreover I feel it puts the responsibility in their hands, albeit under my very watchful eye. Don’t think I am reckless with my children’s safety. I simply feel that I am helping prepare them for the challenges they will meet in life; real, physical, professional, emotional, characterful challenges, by emotionally taking on what they experience in their childhood. And this is what imaginative play and risky play does for our children.
Moors Valley Country Park
One of our favourite places to play is Moors Valley Country Park. Moors Valley is a joint venture between East Dorset District Council and the Forestry Commission. Set in a forest with cycle tracks, adventure play grounds, miniature steam engines, lakes and lots more. They do good coffee and ice creams too!. We have been going to this forest for about 6 years. And it has evolved with my children’s expanding abilities and boundaries. This forest is the perfect example of good quality play and design. It also provides a thoroughly engaging play experience for children of all ages. One of the keys to a play experience being enriching for me is the quality of the play tool. Not only it is versatile, simple, engaging, but it also provides various opportunities for use as the children feel is needed.
Moors Valley offers plenty to do for all of the family. The Play Trail runs for about a mile through woodland. Along this route you will come across various wooden play structures for the kids to play on and in. These structures are creative and simple and evoke such grisly and enticing topics. First and foremost a Snake Pit, where children gleefully disappear down long wooden snake tunnels through the snakes open mouths. There are also Spiders Web, Crocodile Crossing, and The house of Baba Yaga. I remember starting the trail with one 6 year old boy who was generally timid and lacked confidence in his physical skills. After he successfully crossed the Crocodile Crossing, he then raced off with his friends to take on the next structure. A complete change to the boy that entered the wood cautious to let go of his mother’s leg!
Timber encourages the children to climb up a hill of fallen timber that have created a Jengar like path that you have to thread your way through, negotiating tricky passes from one fallen piece of timber to the next. This involves climbing at height, balancing, negotiating crossings, it involves strength, concentration, decision making and nerve. These lengths of timber are not just ground level but often high up, leaning against other pieces of timber, carved to create foot holes. I could literally see my 6 year old girl inflate with pride when she first completed the course, and I saw her confidence in her own ability soar whilst my own expectations of her physical abilities and her sense of courage was challenged.
The house of Baba Yaga
Our favourite, nowadays, is The house of Baba Yaga. You can access This fantastic wooden acorn like house by climbing in and exited by sliding down poles. It has a fantastic internal and external sand distribution system for moving the sand from outside to the inside and back again in a cycle with troughs, pulleys and buckets and this totally engages children’s imagination.
I love to watch children play here, the set up encourages children to work in groups, maybe a mixture of friends they have come with and friends they have just met. The ages are invariably mixed too. So you get little ones learning more from working with older kids. The older children are surprisingly looking out for and nurturing the younger ones. The kids learn to negotiate, work in teams, communicate and problem solve, they play imaginatively and they challenge themselves physically. The level of focus and engagement in this play is remarkable and encouraging, this is what good quality play looks and feels like! At the end of the day my children return to the car, invariably walking barefoot along the dusty paths in the woodland, tired, happy, grubby and totally played out. A perfect day!
Read about Kids; creative opportunits! here