The World Is Upside Down

Rusty Keeler, author of Adventures in Risky Play, is the guest author of this blog post. I love this new book and invited him to submit an excerpt from it. Here it is!


There is a Zen saying “the world is upside down.” It means the way we look at the world is actually the complete opposite of what it really is. The idea is, somewhere along the line, we flipped the spiritual meaning of life. Instead of focusing on love, compassion, gratitude, awareness, and impermanence, we began focusing on the material world – jobs, wealth, things, etc. – and that desire for and chasing of those things has caused us great suffering. It is our journey to turn the world back right-side up.

I see that the same sort of thing has happened to our view of childhood, play, safety, and overprotecting. The world is upside down. Many of the things we worry about and eliminate are actually things we want for children’s lives and should be standing up for. What was looked at as bad is actually good.

It’s more dangerous for children not to have “risky” things in their lives. Safety used to require removing risks. Now we know risk is important. Rules used to demand removing natural elements like rocks and roots from children’s environments. Now we work to include those elements. Children have been segregated according to age, but now we know that mixing children of different ages is beneficial and important. Children used to be able to climb trees but now some rules say no. Children have been barefoot throughout human history but now regulations frown on it. Children like to wrestle and roughhouse, but now adults say no even as literature supports its practice. In so many cases what is truly good for children has been deemed unacceptable and the world has seemed upside down. We lost our yes.

Together we stand to find ways to support what we know is right for children—to be mindful of our environments, to be thoughtful with our practices, to be vigilant in our supervision and support of play. And also to be confident in our voices. To have the difficult conversations. To work for new rules and ideas in our workplaces and in our hearts. To bring things right- side up again, it takes recognizing the upside down reality and saying, “no more.” Time to take a stand and take a step. Even a small step is a step in the right direction. Each step to providing children with the opportunities for healthy play is a step that tilts the world right-side up.

I have loads of examples of “risky” play in my new book Adventures in Risky Play: What is Your Yes? such as tree climbing, water play, exploring fire, keeping chickens, mixed ages of children, rough and tumble play and more. Based on the old way of thinking about risk and rules some of that stuff might feel edgy, provocative, even dangerous! Some of it is indeed risky but does that mean it should be removed from children’s lives? The old way of thinking said so. The upside-down world views it that way. But those times are changing.

There are many ways to help you say yes to providing opportunities for risky play. Do risk-benefit analyses. Supply appropriate clothing. Work with licensors and accreditors to show them you are being thoughtful in your practice. Educate parents on the benefits of risky play. Implement risk-management techniques to reduce the likelihood of serious injuries. The goal is to help you feel more comfortable saying yes and allowing children to say yes (or no) too. Each time you do this you make your environment richer, the choices for your children wider, and opportunities for healthy growth and safe risk-taking greater. All this kind of play is perfectly normal in the right-side up world. Cheers to the good stuff. See you on the flip side!


Rusty and I are definitely kindred spirits. One of the many things we agree on is the need to take a stand for what we know to be right for children! With that in mind, I’m creating a new online course called “Become a Champion for Play & Joyful Learning: Simple Strategies to Educate Parents, Administrators, & Policymakers!” You can join the waiting list here!

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