Learning to Be Caring (and Daring) Through Imaginative Play

Balloon babies brought empathy and adventure to my kids' play.

Parker Barry

Helping kids learn to balance being careful and caring with taking healthy risks is a challenge for most parents. Thankfully, we can count on Pure Play to help kids learn to manage the caring vs. daring conundrum in ways we could never imagine.

When my daughters, Olivia and Elena, were around 8 and 4 years old, they made up an elaborate game involving water balloon “babies” that naturally helped them practice critical social and emotional skills related to care and risk. My girls drew happy faces with markers on the wobbly, hard-to-hold balloon cuties, and gave each one a name.

Girls on a mission

Their mission was to get the babies through an obstacle course fraught with danger in our backyard. They shimmied sideways along the fence, crawled under the hammock, rolled through the sandbox, all while holding the babies tightly (but not too tight) to keep them from doing what water balloons tend to do. Once safely home to the wooden elevated platform atop their small play set, the girls carefully laid the balloons in soft little beds made of leaves and moss.

Feeling strong and courageous, my girls would return to the bucket near the back porch where other balloons awaited rescue. When a baby popped, it was a big deal. My girls were sad. They were more careful next time. But after a few successful rescues, a competition would begin to see who could reach home first.

In this multi-session, weeks-long game, I witnessed my kids develop caring and competitive, empathic and adventurous skills, all through imaginative play. These balloons-turned-babies evoked a real sense of responsibility in my kids. The obstacle course allowed them to stretch their boundaries and suffer sad, but manageable, losses. And I did absolutely nothing but watch in amazement.

A few tips I’ve learned

  • If your kid tends to be on the overly cautious side, encourage her to take some healthy risks. Introduce the concept of obstacle courses and help her map out their first one. When things don’t go as planned or if she falls and gets a boo-boo, reassure her failures and falls are a part of life; she’ll bounce.
  • If your kid skews toward action without caution, gently point out objects, creatures and people who may need us to be extra careful around them, as relevant real-life situations arise. Find ways to naturally slow your kid down, perhaps through yoga and other balancing activities.

While we can’t guarantee our kids will always make the best choice or protect them from every scrape or popped balloon, we can reassure them that we are always here to help. Imaginative play can empower them to experience the fun that proves the rewards on the obstacle course of life are worth some healthy risks.


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