Real play means taking risks—physical, social, and even cognitive. Children are constantly trying out new things and by doing this they learn a great deal. Children are adventurous and love to move from one adventure to the next. Facing the risk of injury does not stop a child! Children embrace life, play and are prepared for a certain amount of bumps and bruises while growing up. Even a broken bone doesn’t slow them down for very long.
This is my personal reflection on risky play, coming from a primary school teacher who moved to early years where risk is much more accepted, it took me quite some time to be ok with it and once i was and stopped fearing it. I could see the amazing benefits that allowing my pre-prep children to take risks had on them. Although no one wants to see a child injured, creating an environment that is overly safe creates a different kind of danger for them. Growing up in a risk-averse society, such as we currently have ( and what I was exposed to when teaching primary school) means children are not able to practice risk-assessment which enables them to match their skills with the demands of the environment. As a result, many children have become very timid and are reluctant to take risks at all.
When children are given a chance to freely engage in adventurous play they quickly learn to assess their own skills and match that risk to the demands of the environment. Children will then ask themselves—consciously or unconsciously—“how high can I climb this tree?”, or “is this log across the creek strong enough to support me?” They learn more about themselves and their environment. Children who are confident about taking chances bounce back better when things don’t work the way the expected. They develop more resilience and self awareness because their given the chance make mistakes. They are resilient and will try again and again until they master a situation that challenges them.
Now as an Early Years teacher I enjoy giving my children as many opportunities to face age-appropriate risk as possible. Climb the trees! Slide down the hills and build the cubby houses using the large sticks and large branches. When we go on our nature walks in the local bushland, we play in tree stumps, rocks, some heavy enough to cause injury if the children were not careful but appropriate risks for the children and their ages. Inside we use screw drivers and scissors, and even needles, and cut fruit and vegetables using knives. Overall, the children are remarkably careful, and understand the risks because their given the opportunity to assess these risks. I am constantly amazed at how quickly they master a new challenge and how well they handled it.
The children learn from their mistakes and rarely repeated them. I am sure that when children are given risks they rise to it and become very competent.
We do of course have the assess for hazards, these are invisible risks that children can’t see such as broken glass, or a broken piece on a play ground or footpath. Risky play isn’t allowing the children do whatever they want, it’s about allowing them to take the risks once an area is hazard free. Children do not see the hazards, they cannot risk-assess them. Thus, protecting children from hazards is the responsibility of us as adults and teachers.
As an Early Years teacher, there are some things to consider when offering children adventurous play opportunities. It’s best not to encourage children to climb higher than they are prepared to go, or hold them back if they seem ok and not fearful. We don’t want to override their growing ability to risk-assess. Let them take risks, the benefit out ways the risks!
– written by Katherine – ECT at Capalaba