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Opportunity in Challenge

Even when life challenges us, it's a gift beyond all measure.
Parker Palmer, author

Dear Exchange Community,

Here is part two from an email Lois Ingellis, college instructor and Exchange author, graciously agreed we could share:

"Even adults have trouble with news coverage that show the towers coming down over and over, oil spills over and over, and now the coverage of COVID-19 daily in our lives. Children are on the periphery of the news and with this repetition in the media, they may see and hear some news over and over, hear adults talking, and sense something is different, something concerning. But what does it mean to them? They pick up cues, tensions, emotions, and if given the opportunity to freely use it in their play as a way to make sense of events, gain control and power they don’t fully understand. We in early childhood know, value, and support the role of play in learning.

Recently another ExchangeEveryDay highlighted Rusty Keeler’s newest book, Adventures in Risky Play. He discusses the role outdoor learning can play in giving children a sense of control as they master appropriate risks. He first explains that assuring children’s safety from true harm must be taken as a given, but then goes on to write: " ....opportunities for measured risk-taking can create more able-bodied and self-assured children who will be better equipped to live safer lives in the long run than if we overly protect them to be safe in the momentary short term."

Also from Parents League of New York, March 31, 2020, William Stixrud, Neuropsychologist, writes:

‘Kids brains work better when they have a sense of agency. When they perceive that they have control, their prefrontal cortex—the seat of executive function—regulates the rest of the brain, including the amygdala, which is the brain’s danger-detector. The prefrontal cortex is logical and puts things in perspective: when it’s in charge, kids are able to think rationally and broadly. When they feel forced, when they feel as if something is not within their control, the amygdala takes over, shutting down the prefrontal cortex and regulating the rest of the brain. Threat looms everywhere, and they are no longer able to think clearly.’ Source: Children Need a Sense of Control

Maybe knowing the neuropsychology can bring us back to believing that social and emotional risks during play along with physical risks are the best ways to give children the power and control they need…Opportunities for social and emotional health and development is part of the discussion on risky play too.

According to Peter Gray:

‘Over the past 60 years we have witnessed, in our culture, a continuous, gradual, but ultimately dramatic decline in children’s opportunities to play freely, without adult control, and especially in their opportunities to play in risky ways. Over the same 60 years we have also witnessed a continuous, gradual, but ultimately dramatic increase in all sorts of childhood mental disorders, especially emotional disorders.’
Source: Risky Play: Why Children Love It and Need It Psychology Today, April 2014

I have high hopes for the rebuilding we are all exploring in early childhood education in this country. Reimagining our work (ROW) discussions are happening. The COVID-19 exposure to the underfunding of those in the caring fields was discussed at the political conventions, and our leaders are holding a spotlight up to the need for greater public support, reworking the funding streams so that we can re-open but rebuild our programs with a new awareness of the systemic changes that need to happen for children to thrive."

Lois M. Ingellis

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