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Courageous in Play Helps Children Develop into Confident Adults

Psssst! Can we share a secret? Explore Austin encourages confident play in the outdoors. Yep, you read that correctly. We don’t play it safe when it comes to our Explorers and we think our program is better for it. Let us tell you why.

Courageous play, sometimes called ‘Risky Play’ occurs when children intentionally seek exhilarating and scary physical play situations that allow them to gain mastery over their fears. As research mounts on the importance of risky play for children’s health, development and well-being, there is increasing recognition regarding the need for action to create supportive environments for play. Risky play can have wide-reaching benefits for children’s health, development, mental health, and well-being. Driven by curiosity and excitement seeking, they learn about their environment, what it affords, how far they can push it and their own body, and how to manage the risks they encounter.

At Explore Austin our primary focus is encouraging Explorers to try hard things. Many of our participants have never gone canoeing, rock-climbed, explored a cave, or seen snow. Part of the program is teaching our Explorers and mentors alike, how to exist within some inevitable discomfort. This builds resiliency and strong bonds within the teams and prepares them for their future trips that will be more difficult, longer, and further away from home. The nature of Explore Austin’s program encourages ambiguity and decision-making on the fly. This stretches the muscles necessary to help youth feel confident in uncertain or ‘risky’ situations in the future.

Angela J. Hanscom, pediatric occupational therapist and author of “Balanced and Barefoot”, reminds us of the challenges and instinctual solutions that children are facing: an ever-growing focus on quantity and quality of academic work, and a lessening outdoor recreation. She encapsulates the importance of childhood play to developing one’s physical senses and resiliency.

Formulating a curriculum based on mentorship and the development of transferable skills (Action-oriented, Courageous, Excellent Teammate, Strong Communicator), Explore Austin challenges youth to push the limits of what they believe they are capable of achieving. Through activities like mountaineering, backpacking, rock climbing, long-distance canoeing, and mountain biking, the Explore Austin program demonstrates the developmental potential that stems from allowing youth to try (and, yes, sometimes fail) in a safe, team-oriented environment.