By Chelsea Jandreau

This brief period of warm rainy days paired with cold nights is providing us with an extra challenge to our usual routine in the form of ice. It’s something we have to navigate just about every winter. Sometimes you can tell that you are going to be ice skating across the parking lot, and other times your foot catches a sneaky patch of ice that throws you off guard and off balance. 

At some point in your life, you will likely fall on the ice and it might hurt. I still remember when I was around 7 or 8 and I fell down a set of stairs trying to catch the bus. I landed right on my tailbone. I was fine in the end, but it hurt badly enough that I did not end up making it to the bus. However, that doesn’t mean that I never went on those stairs again. There were plenty of times I ran up and down those stairs after I fell, but it was a moment that helped build my awareness and risk assessment for the future.

When we are faced with a risk in the outdoors of any size, we have to make a decision. We must often quickly process the circumstances and compare it with what we know we are capable of. Can we cross this patch of ice, or should we go around it? Is my body capable of compensating and righting myself when I accidentally slip on a patch of unseen ice?

Everyone has different physical limitations rooted in age, disabilities, flexibility and strength, but it is important to find out where your limits are rather than just assuming you can’t do something. It’s about taking calculated risks and learning to trust what your individual body can do.

You have to learn what your body is capable of when you are young to create a foundation that helps you navigate the world later in life. There is no better place to face challenges and calculate risks than nature. 

As kids, we spend a lot of time experimenting with the world around us, looking for cause and effects, and seeing what we can do with the objects around us. However, our outlook has the potential to be affected by what we observe others doing or saying. If a child is constantly being told not to do something before they can even begin, they lose the chance to think through the process and come to a conclusion themselves. Allowing kids to calculate the risks within a set of boundaries can help them make decisions in similar situations in the future and allows them to make those decisions with more confidence.

I was once on a field trip with a group of 7th graders. One of the activities was rock climbing. One of our students was an above the knee amputee. Before we had even met the students, the teachers had already told us she was allowed to try any activity she wanted to participate in. She had no qualms about climbing that rock wall. She had to make some accommodations for herself, but she was clearly used to working with her body rather than against it. I’m sure there are activities that were more difficult or inaccessible for her, but it seemed that she was going to go into the future making decisions based on what she knew she was capable of instead of just assuming that she would be unable to do something she wanted to enjoy with her friends.

Children have to navigate potentially risky situations to figure out how to use their body, how to balance and compensate for uneven terrain and how to catch themselves when they begin to fall. Playing and exploring in nature provides the perfect tools to work on these skills. Logs, trees, rocks, ice and streams are all potential obstacles. The first example of risky play that always comes to my mind is walking across a wet log. There is no one right way to do that, but it doesn’t matter whether you walk, crawl or sit and scoot. It’s also okay to take a couple steps and decide that this is not a safe decision. Being able to make that decision is important. These types of activities and movement can help lay the groundwork for how we physically navigate the world as an adult, whether in nature or on the way back and forth to the grocery store.

For many children (and adults, of course!) engaging in an activity with potential risks also presents a chance to cooperate and communicate. How are we going to move this log? Where are the best places to step so we don’t fall into the water or poison ivy? Often, I have the opportunity to watch as an older child explains to a younger one how to get from one side to the other. However, the younger one has shorter legs and still needs to take the information given and figure out how that works for their own abilities. 

Both play and exploration have the potential to end in frustration. Sometimes, we can watch someone else succeed in crossing that log, but we are not able to do the same. Learning from that, moving on and understanding that not everyone has the same abilities is an important lesson.

Being able to take those risks, push out of your comfort zone and learn to rely on your motor skills can help you more successfully navigate the world as an adult and fuel your future outdoor explorations. Eventually, many of those children who traversed across wet logs, hopped across rocks to cross a stream and climbed some questionable trees grew up to be some of the adults I know who climb up giant boulders, hike some potentially sketchy, but absolutely worth it trails or skate and waddle across that icy parking lot with self-assuredness.

Audubon Community Nature Center builds and nurtures connections between people and nature. ACNC is located just east of Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are open from dawn to dusk as is Liberty, the Bald Eagle. The Nature Center is open from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. daily except Sunday when it opens at 1 p.m. More information can be found online at or by calling (716) 569-2345.

Chelsea Jandreau is a Nature Educator at Audubon Community Nature Center.