Ignite Society Member Spotlight

Heather Von Bank, PhD

It’s not that CMSM Board Secretary Heather Von Bank isn’t a little scared when her 8 year old son dons his goggles and camo helmet, rolls a sleeping bag out at the top of the second floor stairs, and hollers “hey, wanna go for a ride?” to his 10 year old brother. It’s that she knows the value of risky play. She also knows curiosity can lead to crashing. It’s all a part of the package.

In her recent TEDx talk at Minnesota State University, Mankato, Heather explains, “the more children engage in risky play, the better they are at making decisions to avoid getting injured, which makes them pretty great at assessing risk.” Getting curious about natural tools and natural elements are prime learning opportunities for children. When we give them facsimiles of the real thing, it might be a little more comfortable to us as adults, but it’s not giving the child an opportunity to, say, manage the weight and the heft of an actual hammer as they work to pound an actual nail into a log. The next time you are in the Kato Engineering Explorer’s Lab wander to the back. You will always find a log or two full of nails. Children crave authentic experiences.

Children crave the thrill of risky play because it’s fun. Just ask them or, better yet, watch them. According to Heather,

“researchers have also found that risky play provides an anti-phobic effect that is like an immunization for fear. Falling makes kids less scared of heights and can let kids face their fears and cope with life changes.”

When she is not engaging with the CMSM Board, Heather is fulfilling her role as Chair of the Department of Family and Consumer Science at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Or she’s thinking about play. She launched the first Midwest Play Conference, in conjunction with the US Play Coalition, right here in Mankato in 2016. The first day of the conference ended with an evening of play at the Children’s Museum. Their Facebook page is still active and continues to be a great place to find articles written about play. Not long after the second conference, Heather joined the CMSM Board of Directors. She has served since 2018.