My nanny kids know I have a rule - I don’t “help” kids on the playground. I don’t push them on swings, lift them up ladders, or go with them on slides. As a (mostly) RIE based nanny, I firmly believe that children develop gross motor skills by doing for themselves - they naturally push their own boundaries just enough to learn at their own pace.
When a toddler has climbed up a rock, ladder, or climber on their own, they’ve had to watch themselves every inch of the way, calculating where to place their feet and hands, always conscious of the drop beneath them. When they reach the top, not only do they feel a sense of achievement, they also have a new, tactile awareness of their surroundings which makes them less likely to, oh, walk straight off a ledge, or try to jump 5 feet from a ladder (speaking from experience!). If they were able to get up, they’ll be able to get down, and have gained experience, strength, and independence along the way.
I often get dirty or incredulous looks from adults, especially parents, when I practice this free-range philosophy in public. The current trend is helicopter parenting, with children never allowed to fall and potentially hurt themselves. But when children aren’t allowed to take small risks in their daily play, they never learn the limits and capabilities of their own bodies, never feel the pride of doing it themselves, and never develop the knowledge of what feels safe and risky for themselves. So please, parents, nannies, and teachers: step back. Sit on a park bench. Bring a book. Your kid will be better for it.
Resources on risk taking and natural gross motor development
Teacher Tom: Safety Play
Teacher Tom: Eleven Things To Say Instead Of “Be Careful”
Don’t Stand Me Up | Janet Lansbury
The Unsafe Child: Less Outdoor Play Is Causing More Harm Than Good
The Overprotected Kid | The Atlantic