Children learn by taking a few risks

CHARLES ROBERTS Don't do that, Jimmie. You'll hurt yourself! How many times have we overheard that petulant command, and countless variations on the theme, issued by over-cautious mothers and worried aunties?

CHARLES ROBERTS

Don't do that, Jimmie. You'll hurt yourself! How many times have we overheard that petulant command, and countless variations on the theme, issued by over-cautious mothers and worried aunties?

Jimmie, poor lad, was only set on enjoying himself with a

few pals.


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But for enjoyment, read Adventure. And though Jimmie had probably never thought it through, he was aching for the freedom to take a few risks.

Only a few days ago, I read an article on the issue, and found myself muttering strong approval when an expert observed: "My view is that children do need to take some risks, to understand in adult life what risk-taking is. When we can't let our children take risks, it is a sad world."

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End of social philosophy class. Instead I slipped back gently into my village childhood. In comfortable seconds I visualised my birthplace and zoomed in on the people and places I was influenced by for good or ill.

It was a time which still belonged to a clutch of village worthies. We village kids observed their hierarchies. There were four "big houses" owned by four families who recognised each other as equals. But after that, the pecking order was immutable.

Had the worthies known of our secret world of play, and of the risks and dangers that went with it, they would probably have been horrified. The centre of our nefarious operations was the hall's kitchen garden and orchard. Which is to say, we had a predatory interest in the lush fruit contained within their high brick walls.

Nearby was a vast fir tree, whose arms stretched almost to the orchard wall. Firstly, climb the main trunk, and at about 20ft clamber on to the first big branch. Steady now . . . and stand upright. Take hold of another branch about two feet above your head.

Next, "walk" between the two strong branches. Go as far as it will take your weight. Let go of the branch above you.

Lower all your weight on to the branch below your feet . . . and begin to sway up and down. Work the branch increasingly fast. When it's working at its best, launch yourself through the air, to land on the flat top of the orchard wall.

Land safely, get your breath back, crawl along top of wall, and climb down the opposite side of the wall, aided by a convenient fruit tree.

When everybody is safely in, the scrumping (pinching fruit) begins in earnest. No one saw it as dangerous, as it probably was. The excitement was real.

The shackle chain on the single access door is heard. No need for words. Just a couple of jay shrieks. All head back to the escape tree, shin up to level of wall top - and jump down into a patch of soft leaf mould, put there for the purpose.

Three or four yards from the big fir we had a special friend to whom we gave the name of The Easy Tree. He ("It" was far too formal) came straight out of Peter Pan. Every gradient was gentle. Every branch led parallel with another, making it easy to take hold of. The Easy Tree had thought of everything."

But things can go wrong. One evening, moving fast, I slipped on a branch, went over backwards - and fell on my back on to an old tree stump. My elder brother was first to reach me. "You all right?" "Can't breath," I wheezed. "Can't breath."

He didn't hesitate. He raised me to a sitting position - and hit me, hard, between the shoulders.

It worked like a cork being shot out of pressurised water. Within minutes I could breath normally. All was fine - but we all made a pact not to mention the incident to parents.

After all, we didn't want to worry the poor dears about nothing, did we?

There were two further echoes of Peter Pan still to come. We dreamed up one underground den; and a cosy turf retreat with its own fireplace. The second we built in a surge of energy under a massive, spreading tree . . turf walls, a fireplace built of whatever hard materials we could find, ditto timbers for the roof plus more turfs to make it waterproof.

On chilly nights, it was our special retreat, made magical by the mixed smells of wood on the fire and and baking potatoes.

Exciting? Risky? Adventurous? Ingenious? Dangerous? All these things probably. But as we never even considered them, all seemed so safe and secure. What was it the man said, whom I quoted at the beginning of this column?

"When we can't let our children take risks, it is a sad world."

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