Kids Play Commando As Schools, Parents Let Them Take Risks to Build Decision-making

A military-style obstacle course is giving children as young as four the opportunity to take risks at a time when playground equipment is becoming less adventurous.

Schools and parents are signing children up to participate in the Tacker Attack course at Loveday in regional South Australia, sending them commando crawling through irrigation pipes, along ropes and into mud.

And despite the inevitable rope burns, scrapes and bruises, the principal at St Joseph's School in Barmera, Lee Abela, said there were no complaints from parents when he first suggested putting students through the course three years ago.

"I did wonder 'is the parent community going to think I'm crazy for doing this?' [but] we actually had a number of parents who wanted to come along for the experience as well," Mr Abela said.

The entire school now tackles the course at the start of each year to build on its nature play and risk-taking programs which have seen the inclusion of a climbing tree, hammocks and jumping pillow on school grounds.

The philosophy aimed to equip children for the type of decisions they would need to make in the real world.

Unlike modern playgrounds with soft-fall rubber and colourful plastic surfaces, the Loveday course featured chipped concrete, old tyres, ropes, grass, water and mud.

Course operator Tony Whateley designed all the obstacles and used his young nephews to test them, making sure they were neither too easy or too difficult for children.

"Playgrounds are all designed very symmetrical, so all your rungs are exactly 200mm apart - you could put a blindfold on a kid and they could go through a park," Mr Whateley said.

"I believe that making things safer is actually making kids dumber.

Concerns over public liability and insurance costs saw the closure of the Monash Adventure Playground, designed by Riverland inventor Grant Telfer, in the 1990s.

When it reopened, its towering steel slides, seesaws, flying foxes and roller coasters had been replaced.

Mr Whateley was not prepared to let insurance costs and liability concerns stop him from offering today's generation of youngsters the type of adventures he had as a kid.

"Too often nowadays we say 'back when I was a boy...' well, I'm actually able to give that back and do what I can so the kids can do some of those things that we used to do when we were young," Mr Whateley said.

He operates the Tacker Attack course at a 3200-hectare park north-east of Adelaide.

The course attracted about 200 children from across South Australia when it hosted military-inspired challenges.

Six schools from the local area send students to the course to foster leadership, camaraderie and decision making.

The course was being expanded with a mobile version that could be packed into a truck and taken to schools outside of the Riverland.

As for the students at St Joseph's School, the opportunity to slide through mud with their friends and teachers beat the classroom any day.

"I looked like a mud monster," said Year 7 student Ruby Carter.

Fellow school captain Dylan Gilgen said the ropes were the toughest challenge.

"The majority fell off, I managed to make it somehow, I had pretty bad rope burn." But he's not complaining.

"I told (my parents) it was really fun and a great way to be with friends." Topics:

children family-and-children community-and-society primary-schools public-schools schools education history loveday-5345 nildottie-5238 swan-reach-5354 blanchetown-5357 barmera-5345 adelaide-5000 berri-5343 renmark-5341 renmark-south-5341

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