One of the greatest joys of being a parent is witnessing your child grinning widely, bursting into fits of laughter while running around and playing. At the same time, there's also a natural sense of worry that comes with being a parent, wanting your child to have fun, but also ensuring that they don't get injured during their adventures.
To gain insight on how children can play freely while still staying safe, we spoke to Amos Ho, a certified Wilderness First Responder as well as Safety and Risk Management Consultant for Little Urban Forest.
With the freedom that comes with outdoor play, what are the boundaries set for the children and when should adults step in?
How much freedom are the children given in terms of outdoor activity?
Children should be given the freedom to use their imagination to the fullest and initiate any form of play they want, be it sand play, water play, tree climbing, pretend play, etc.
What boundaries are set?
We teach children about safety, and set boundaries to keep themselves and their friends around them safe from injury. For example, some of the ground rules we set are to not throw stones, to have a teacher be present when climbing trees, and to stay within the red & white tape activity area when visiting the Rimba Ilmu.
By setting these boundaries, the children learn that they can have fun and play to their heart’s content, while still staying safe.
When do adults step in?
Adults should only step in when the risk of the activity outweighs the children’s learning. We want to provide opportunities for the children to discover their own strengths and weaknesses through risk taking.
Children as young as 6 months old have a natural instinct to keep themselves safe, and we aim to sustain that instinct by not telling them a consequence that is too scary, causing them to doubt their own instinct. For example, when a child is attempting to climb a tree and we immediately tell them that they could fall or break their bones, they may never dare to climb a tree as they are afraid of the consequences. They may not even know their ability or discover their skill in tree climbing.
How does outdoor play help children with assessing risk?
With the world becoming so digitised, we have noticed that children are slowly becoming disconnected from nature. Growing up, we used to spend most of our time outdoors, creating our own games with the tools made available by nature. We believe that this is what is missing from the children’s lives now.
Outdoor play provides many learning opportunities for children to assess risk. When in the forest, we do not wrap thorny trees with foam or lay cushions on uneven ground. Instead, we teach the children to identify risks and determine how to manage them. They learn to think critically about a risky activity, to be more confident in decision making and more aware of their surroundings.
For parents who want to help their kids feel more accustomed to exploring outdoors, what are some activities you would advise them to start off with?
Start by bringing them outdoors to the park - allow them to explore the area and observe their surroundings.
Don't be afraid to let them get dirty, messy or engage in activities that may seem slightly risky.
Parents can also slowly progress to bringing their children to easy jungle trails, making it a fun weekend activity for the family.
One of the main concerns of a parent would be the child getting injured - how do you allow the child to play and learn freely while ensuring the parents that their children are in good hands?
We always tell parents that we do not provide an environment that is completely risk free. Risk is everywhere and allowing children to experience risk enhances their awareness of their surrounding and physical ability. The children may fall or get minor cuts from branches.
However, this is how children develop resilience and learn that all these experiences are part of life.
On top of that, we have a comprehensive risk management plan and procedures that all teachers are trained in and follow strictly.
What activities do you most look forward to teaching or doing with the children of Little Urban Forest?
I look forward to interacting with the children and to see their creativity during free play. I also look forward to helping and seeing the children push their personal limits to conquer their fears.
As someone who started off in investment banking, how did you end up teaching at Little Urban Forest?
Since I was young, I have always loved the outdoors. Growing up at the edge of Kuala Lumpur with the jungle and hills right behind my house, I would go explore the outdoors a lot as a kid. My love for the outdoors grew, and this led to me going on long overnight hiking trips during my college and university days.
After graduating from university with a degree in finance and business law, I started my career in investment banking and management. During my 4 years in that field, I realised that sitting in an office for 10 to 12 hours a day was not my cup of tea. Eventually, I decided to leave the corporate world and start an adventure company called Open Sky Unlimited.
The approach from Little Urban Forest came along as a great match in terms of my passion for the outdoors, as well as being able to share outdoor knowledge and experiences with young children.
What are some of the activities that are conducted outdoors at Little Urban Forest?
Most of the activities at LUF are child-led play. Every Wednesday, we have a Survival Skills Programme where I teach children about personal safety as well as basic survival knowledge and skills. Every Thursday, I lead the outdoor excursion at Rimba Ilmu.
Some of the activities we conduct with the children are building shelters, dens and campfires, going on scavenger hunts, learning how to use tools, and observing plants, insects, birds, and animals in order to understand their behaviour.
Teaching the children personal outdoors safety and survival skills during their early childhood helps them to develop more holistically, not only growing their confidence and enhancing their observation skills, but also instilling a deep love for nature in them.
My involvement with Little Urban Forest is the first of its kind and is unique, as the teaching of survival skills and risk assessment is not typically a part of a preschool curriculum. However, at Little Urban Forest we believe that for children who are raised within an urban jungle, the exposure to survival and life skills is equally important in comparison to academic learning. Children need to learn how to care for themselves as their future will likely be much more challenging than the present.
Thank you, Amos for taking the time to talk with us! If you want to learn more about Little Urban Forest check out their website: https://www.littleurbanforest.com or call +603 7971 4466 for more information.