Sunday, 23 February 2014

Risk - it's all about the right attitude.

Yes it is a muddy steep bank & they could fall but they will get back up again.
The whole debate about risk in childhood has never been so alive as at the moment, there are 2 very distinct camps, you are either for it or against it. I have heard lots of people saying that they are OK with their own children taking risks but they can't allow those in their care either as a teacher or daycare provider or childminder to do the same. I even heard a teacher once say that it was our job to keep children as safe as possible.

Think about that last statement? Can we really keep children as safe as possible without keeping them in a completely padded room for their entire life?
I think it is much better to teach our children to embrace challenge & take risks in as safe an environment as we can provide and by that I mean making sure that equipment is not broken or not age appropriate. I also believe that we as adults can help children to have the right attitude to risk & getting hurt.
This narrow plank takes a lot of courage & coordination to master.
When I look back at my childhood, of course it was always sunny & the days were longer! But really what I remember most is that I did play outside & was allowed to take risk in my play & yes I did have accidents but my mum in particular gave me a great outlook for life. Whenever things were bad, if I had fallen & got hurt or was having to face something I didn't really want to do - like go to the dentist/doctor - my mum would say "You'll be able to tell a great story about this some day" or "You'll laugh about this some day".
And you know what that is still true for me today, no matter what happens to me or how bad it seems at the time, I always remember her advice & so far it always proved to be true & it has made some horrible events more bearable at the time.

It was also a big deal in our house when I got my first scabbed knees from a fall, it was almost a cause for celebration & I wore those scabby knees like a badge of honour! Yes my parents were very caring & loving & I was always very comforted when hurt but I was also encourage to see that falling was part & parcel of my right of passage as a child. I was that child who slipped on a book (I left on the stairs) & went head first down the stairs & into the telephone seat (those of a certain age will remember those) & knocked my front teeth out. I was the child who bounced off my parents bed & hit their dressing table giving my self a black eye - both of these events made for interesting First Communion photos.

With that mantra "It'll make a great story some day" I have put myself forward for some uncomfortable or challenging events, knowing that it would be putting me out of my comfort zone but relishing the chance to have a good story later! 

I think as a teacher of young children (the youngest in the education sector in N.I) I believe that I have to pass on that confidence to try new challenges & embrace uncomfortable experiences. In my setting we do of course comfort children who have fallen when scrambling over crates or tree stumps or climbing trees etc. but more importantly we want the children to dust themselves off & try again with the knowledge that they were hurt but are still OK. We can't keep children as safe as possible but we can teach them to judge what is safe for them at a particular moment. I love watching children climbing or walking along the planks of wood & crates in the playground. Some will be very apprehensive about the whole affair & take days of walking slowing along the route & jumping off a certain part they are unsure off, whilst others will run along the route. But more importantly if the structure remains in place long enough every child will manage to negotiate the route & feel such accomplishment at the end. 

After 6 attempts he mastered the tree stumps & was so proud of himself.
Anyone who works with young children will know the scene; a child has completed a hard puzzle only to tip it out again & redo it again & again; repetitive practice is how young children learn & that's why it's important to allow them time to revisit activities again & again. It's why we like to visit familiar outdoor spaces on a regular basis, the children enjoy trying new found skills again & again & having something to work towards.
Arms out for balance - a familiar chant in the playground.
I know of settings that have removed crates or tree stumps after one child fell on them and sadly this is mostly due to fear of litigation. But think about when someone has a car crash do we remove all the cars off the road? I think it's time people began to take a look at this blame culture we have created, if a child falls on a crate & gets a bruise or scrape, why should the school be sued? The other big myth often quoted is that Health & Safety wouldn't allow it - nonsense! People use H&S as an excuse in my opinion, of course we have to make sure equipment is in good condition & that there are broken or jagged parts that could cause a serious injury but H&S have never said that children shouldn't be allowed to play with tree stumps or crates.

I am very fortunate that all the parents who decide to send their child to our school also support us in our risk taking culture - many will say they couldn't watch their child do some of the stuff they do in school but they trust us to know what we are doing. I watched a parent visibly wince as she saw a child fall on the hollow blocks this week, she then turned to me & said, "I suppose you are used to that & don't react?" and yes we don't wince or gasp or panic if we see a child fall but we certainly can empathise with their pain. Generally we find it best to watch & see how the child reacts, if they bounce up again with no crying etc. it's best to not make a big fuss of the fall but is a child is hurt we do comfort them & make sure they are OK. 

If we want to have a generation of young people who can weigh up the risk versus benefit in situations they find themselves in throughout life, we have to allow them to embrace risk at a young age & then we will have given them a very important life skill.


11 comments:

  1. I loved this post, Kierna.
    Your children are lucky tikes.
    Hugs,
    Brenda

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    1. Hi Brenda - so lovely to hear from you xxx

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  2. I agree with your thoughts on the matter. I am always forcing my little one to take risks and yes, when they can assess the situation they become more aware of their abilities.

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    1. So true & often it's hard for us as adults to stop worrying about what might happen & allow them to try new challenges & learn that to fall is not the end of the world.

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  3. Great post, Kierna. Society has become very risk averse but the truth is that there are some things you can only learn through first-hand experience. I always had a lot of freedom to explore the outdoors and - yes, sometimes get hurt - and today I think it's one of the best things my parents ever did for me. As my dad puts it, you can't explain to somebody what pain feels like - it's something you have to experience for yourself. Of course there's a difference between risk and hazard, but you can't protect kids against every little scab or bruise - and you shouldn't!

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    1. Exactly Linda and I came across another post that linked high self esteem with being allowed to take risks etc.

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  4. Excellent post Kierna - children can only learn how to make sensible decisions about what is safe to do and what is too dangerous if they have been allowed to experience "risky" things as they grow up. At my primary school we had a rope swing from a high wall (probably actually not that high) and initially I fell off it several times until I could do it properly. So I cut my knees a few times but I learnt how to not give up on something and I learnt how to do it right because I was given the chance to try and retry something that today would all too often be perceived as too dangerous for a school playground. There are also some very interesting articles around about why playgrounds are not wild enough for our children. All the steps are the same size and have non slip surfaces, the ground is softened and everything is generally risk reduced. Children do no learn how to adapt to a variable environment and so when taken to uneven steps, hard surfaces etc they are unable to cope.

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    1. Hi, thanks for popping over to leave such a great comment. Agree completely about playgrounds, they often offer no challenge & children get bored of them very quickly.

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  5. I believe it's a vital life skill that children are able to be equipped to make their own risk assessments and develop their confidence and ability to cope with challenges. Our children have been fortunate enough to grow up in a rural setting with nature's playground to develop and find their own physical and mental limitations through play. Thanks for linking up and sharing with Country Kids.

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    1. Thanks Fiona, I think your children are having a perfect upbringing, almost like it was for the majority in the past.

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  6. Fantastic read. Very very true. I will be giving your article to all of our 350 parents. Thank you. Bettina olsen - chapter one childcare

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