The kids and I spent a glorious morning over the weekend leading a "nature playgroup" at a wonderful and underappreciated gem of an urban park. (One of my most delightful jobs is to lead these nature playdates for families with children...we get out and explore the urban park system and generally have fun just messing around in natural areas.)
J and L (and about 15 other kids!)were frolicking in the sunshine, picking up leaves and tossing them high into the air. We were all on a hill that was dotted with huge, sprawling oak trees. There were sticks and acorns everywhere. J immediately found a stick about 6 inches long, as big around as, oh, I don't know, Barbie's leg. He didn't want to put it down. He was carrying it around under his arm, holding it like a walking stick, even cuddling with it at one point. And in his exuberance, he was running and jumping.
I wasn't going to be "that parent" who won't let her kids play with sticks (and who am I kidding? I'm not that parent.)But then again, it did cross my mind that, well, he was running with a stick.
I actually had an entire internal dialogue about this: Should I put a stop to this? No, he's fine, he's having fun. Let him enjoy it. What's the problem? Relax, I told myself. You worry too much. A wisp of anxiety floated through my mind...well, he could get hurt, couldn't he? But really, what are the chances that he'll actually poke his eye out?
Well, wouldn't you know. The moment I had that awful thought, J fell down. Onto the stick. Luckily, it didn't actually enter his eye, but it came darn close. For a few moments there, I felt like The Worst Mother in the World (again). I mean, I let the kid run with a stick on wet leaves: OK, not the best choice.
So. The corner of his right eye is bruised, swollen, and scratched. He cried for a long time, but was OK. No real harm done. In fact, he's a little proud to tell the story to anyone who'll listen.
I've heard lots of reasons for parents and educators' not wanting kids to play with sticks, and injury is top among them. But it's often there that people stop. Well, OK, I ask them, so what if there was an injury. Would that be OK? Or not? Is the risk worth the benefit? How bad would it be?
When it comes to playing outside, many parents hope and try to eliminate the possibility of any injuries altogether. How can you mitigate every possible risk? I don't think this is realistic, or even possible. I'm certainly not saying I think injuries are good, and I'm not trying to minimize real risk and real injury. I'm just saying that sometimes minor injuries aren't necessarily as bad as we imagine them. The risk of getting poked with a stick is, to me, not high or bad enough to warrant removing sticks from my child's repertoire of playthings. And isn't that how it is with most risks involved in outdoor play? There is often a considerable risk of some relatively minor injury and a much, much smaller risk or something much, much worse. So, when do we refuse to let them have the experience because of the small risk that Something Really Bad will happen?
Now granted, I recognize J was darn lucky this weekend. It could have been really bad. But it wasn't. And most of the time, thank goodness, it just isn't.