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Risky Play Urban-Style

'Risky' play is a new term for what a lot of us would have just called playing as kids.  It involves doing things like digging around in the dirt, climbing trees, and exploring the neighborhood with little or no supervision.  I'm a huge fan of 'risky' outdoor play having partaken in it as a kid myself.  We camp, hike, and/or we hit the beach most weeks.  OK, the gang--7 y.o. No. One, 5 y.o. No. Two, and 3 y.o. No. Three--hikes every day.  They also dig in the dirt, climb trees, run away from waves, and dash down hills routinely.

I'm also a fan of what might be deemed 'risky' urban play, which I haven't seen discussed as often in the modern literature although Colin Ward was a proponent back in the '70s.  Here are some of the ways we try to practice 'risky' play when we're in town:

Venturing Ahead
The gang tends to cruise out ahead of us when we walk around town.  They know they can go as far as the next corner, or the next driveway.  With the long blocks downtown, they get plenty of room to independently explore before we catch up.  The gang finds new stores they want to explore, strike up conversations with strangers, weave through crowds, and generally have a blast.

Independent Grocering
One of our first experiments with in town risky play centered around grocery stores.  I'd put the kids on the ground, and send them out ahead of me to check things out while we were shopping.  We've now worked our way up to the gang spreading out across the store to pick up items independently and shorten our shopping time.

Transit Dispersal
San Francisco has an incredible transit system, so we don't drive.  The gang, since they were able to walk, have insisted on getting themselves on and off public transit.  This evolved into two different kinds of play, one that's widely sanctioned, and one that's sanctioned by some of their caregivers, but not others.  The first way is simple enough, the gang all sit wherever they'd like.  I don't help, they're responsible for finding their own spot.  This leads to them sitting all over the bus.  They tend to strike up conversations on buses and trains as well.  Some of my neighbors have introduced themselves to me by asking if I was the dad of Nos. One, Two, or Three.

The second way is that the kids have developed the bus into a bit of an acrobatics gym.  It turns out that if you grab onto the post of a jointed bus as it goes around a turn, and if you happen to be three years old, you can generate enough centrifugal force to fly your feet off the ground.  This and other wonders occur to the gang weekly as they experiment on the more crowded rides where they can't get a seat.

Take me there
One of the gang's favorite games is to take me to locations in the city they're familiar with.  We'll hop off the train, I'll say something like "Take me to the Mechanics Institute", and they're gone.  They keep within sight so I can figure out which way to go by following them, but the trip is their's from that point on.

Retrieving Necessities
Another early urban risky play game was going back into whichever coffee shop or cafe we happened to be hanging out at for whatever the gang might need.  Sometimes that was a glass of water for themselves or one of their sibs.  Sometimes it's a napkin for me.  Sometimes it's taking our dishes and trash to the bus tray.  The gang gets to do things all by themselves, interact with the staff and other customers, figure things out, and ask for help if they need it.

Ordering Lunch
Now that No. One's learning math, she's getting to go on even more independent missions.  When she and I are downtown, she gets to go inside our favorite carry-out joints, to order, pick-up, and pay for our food.  I wait outside, she's on her own.

'Round the Block or Through the Tunnel
Finally, as the gang has become more independent, we've been splitting our urban routes in much the same way we do our hikes.  If there's more than one way to reach a location--say going down one block while the rest of us go down another, or travelling through a tunnel while the rest of us take the over-the-hill route--then the gang are free to take a different route than their caregiver.  We meet up on the other side at the same destination.

We're constantly coming up with more ways to give the gang their heads and encourage them do span out and play while we're in the city.  How does your gang play around town?


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