At Jump Up Outdoors there is a hill. The Hill is the quickest but not the easiest path to our play area and to the ovals and paddocks where we venture to explore. The Hill is steep, has loose dirt coupled with patches of long grass. Over time, the grass on The Hill has been worn down, foot holes have been dug and a rope has been tied to the tree branch at the top of The Hill to help climbers pull themselves up. Standing at the bottom of The Hill, our Jump Up Kids have displayed a range of strong emotions…incredulity, fear, scepticism, disbelief, wonder, amazement, determination. During the climb, all this seems to fade away and is replaced at the top by a positive sense of achievement, self-esteem and self-satisfaction.
There have been times when The Hill has seemed like too much of a challenge for some of the Jump Up Kids and we do in fact have a longer, gentler slope which gets the children where they need to go. Occasionally some children have chosen this option and we’ve walked with them on this journey. We end up in the same place but the feelings are not the same… we are there but that’s it. We’ve also noticed that every child who walks the longer, gentler slope only ever walks it once. The gentler slope is longer and perhaps the children prefer the fastest route to where they’re going. But perhaps there is something more to it. The gentler slope provides no challenge to the children and this has an effect on their sense of self, their belief about what they can and can’t do and how they feel about that. Children who have spent the day making spears, having mud fights, climbing trees, seem almost deflated, demoralised and a little bit bored as they walk the longer, gentler slope and so on subsequent trips, they head back to The Hill.
So why do children choose The Hill? For each individual child, The Hill presents a just right challenge in many varied ways. A just right challenge is an activity that requires effort or is slightly above what a child can already do but is possible for them to achieve. By attempting and achieving a just right challenge children learn and develop. This does not mean children should be left in situations that they do not have the skills to manage, as this only leaves them feeling frustrated and they are likely to leave that activity and not return.
One of the most important jobs of our Jump Up team is to watch our Jump UpKids and provide the right support at the right time as they encounter and attempt just right challenges. If we are there all the time or giving instructions all the time we rob the children of their self-efficacy. However, by being in the vicinity and observing we, as adults, can support the children when they need it and in a way that enables them to take that next step in their development. It can be as simple as a pat on the back or a thumbs up when one the Jump Up Kids feels like they are stuck or we might take their hand and climb wordlessly up The Hill. Perhaps we might climb The Hill in front of them showing them some good spots to put their feet or provide a verbal prompt along the way such as “see that foot hold just there” or simply “look” and point.
If we ‘do’ everything for our children they will never learn to be independent and capable adults. If we leave our children to flounder, they will become demoralised and disengaged. By providing a just right challenge that is achievable but extends their skills whilst providing them support when they need it, we are helping our children develop into motivated, engaged and positive adults.
The best bit is children are hard wired to seek out just right challenges. It is the way their bodies develop and learn. In natural outdoors environments these challenges are endless. The natural environment is not predictable or standardised and so it is full of ways for children to challenge themselves. At Jump Up Outdoors we aim to give children freedom to explore the natural environment whilst discovering and developing their talents and abilities.
Back at The Hill, there are children who scale it the first time with ease. These are the same children who then try to slide down it on an old chair or a piece of cardboard. There are children who follow someone up The Hill who tells them where to put their hands and feet along the way. These are the same children who go back to The Hill later on their own and climb up and slide down over and over and over again until they feel like they’ve ‘got it’. There are children who like to hold someone’s hand when they climb The Hill until one time they forget and get to the top all by themselves.
These are children who know what they are capable of and want a just right challenge. These are children who are in an unpredictable and inviting outdoor environment. These are children who have conquered The Hill and feel like they are on top of the world. These are our Jump Up Kids!
Give your children a ‘just right’ challenge in our amazing Jump Up outdoor loose parts playground. Book a spot at our holiday program, organise a school or vacation care excursion of we can come to you!
Find out more about Jump Up's school holiday program.
Written by Madeline Avci. Mum of 3 active boys. Occupational Therapist. Owner of Jump Up for Kids (including Jump Up Outdoors). Madeline is passionate about making the outdoors part of everyone’s day and supporting families to navigate the challenges of our modern world.