Monday, 4 May 2015

Managing Risk - Striking a Balance.

Children in Iceland are trusted to make decisions about personal safety.
Last month I was very fortunate to get a place on a one day course run by Playboard N.I on Managing Risk in Play. This is a course I feel should be undertaken by all staff in all schools, day cares and after schools.
Shauneen & Aiveen who facilitated the course where extremely knowledgeable and more importantly had lots of practical background experience. I was the only teacher from a school setting but what struck me the most was that the willingness to embrace risky play is there in most practitioners but if their management is not supportive it can't take place.
I am lucky that the Principals of my school have always valued my opinion and experience and trust that I am capable of judging what is safe and what is not within my setting.
My former Principal & Acting Principal were in Norway with me on my first visit to our partner school and therefore they saw young children using knives, sitting around fires & climbing trees first hand and then were able to understand why I would like to offer such experiences back in at our school.  My current Principal, fortunately, trusts my professional experience and knowledge of the principles of Early Education to fully support the outdoor play approach we offer in nursery.
The key message from this training was that exposure to risk builds resilience. That is a very important skill to develop in children as resilience will help them to deal with whatever life throws at them.  By taking risks in the safe environment of a school playground, young children can learn many things: they will fall, it will hurt, they will be ok, they can try again etc. Most days I will hear children make statements like this: 'If you go near fire you will die, if you don't wear your seatbelt you will die' - we as educators need to help them understand that the risk is not as cut and dried as that. There are reasons for wearing a seat belt but there is no need to scare children into thinking they will die if they don't. 
The main emphasis on this course was to ensure that people have heard of a Risk Benefit Assessment and could begin to use them within their work places. 
It was all about people having confidence in their experience and practice so that they could stand over what is happening in their settings.
I think the biggest problem that  a lot of educators come up against, is buying in lots of resources from catalogues that they have seen in other settings without actually thinking about the children in their setting will use them or whether their space is suitable for them.
In June when we have the new children in to visit we do not let them out into the playground as it has been set up for the current nursery class, the main reason for this is that the nursery children are all mostly 4 by this stage and have had 3 terms in the space to get used to the resources and we have worked hard with them to allow them to interact with the many loose parts as safely as they can. 
We usually have most of the crates and tree stumps out of sight & would certainly not have hammers & nails out for the new children. The children in my class have to learn how to play with all these resources, they learn that crates are very sore when you fall on them, they are slippy on wet days & you can't run on them with your hands in your pockets. It takes time for them to learn this & it takes a few bumps and bruises along the way.
We can't possible keep the children in our care from falling, getting scrapes or even getting hurt - not unless we literally wrap them up in cotton wool. We can however, teach them how to assess situations - is something too wobbly to climb up on, is it too high? How could they make it safer? They also need to learn that they won't be able to do something just because their friend can.
The main thing I took away from this course was to be open and honest with parents from the very beginning explaining why you want to offer risky play experiences and how such play will help their children build resilience and all the necessary skills needed for life. 


  1. I love that picture.
    I love all the points here...assessing the situation and skills is so important and young kids are smarter than we think.

    1. Hi Salma, thanks for the comment. A lot of what was said was common sense but sadly more and more people seem to be afraid of allowing children to take risks & think they can keep them safe by not allowing certain types of play.

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