Updated: Oct 30, 2021
What I've learned through my years as a nanny and am learning from Forest School experts on how to foster an environment where children can grow and learn without filling out daily incident reports.
The old phrase is "nothing ventured, nothing gained" right? So why do we not approach child-rearing with that same attitude when it comes to child-rearing? Parenting today involves so much risk prevention. Childproofing every corner of the home, always staying within arms reach in order to prevent scratches and bumps. But what is that teaching our children?
Science says to stop. Let them explore. Take risks. Make mistakes. Get hurt.
As a Mom, this can be terrifying. Our job is to protect them, so how does letting them take risks to keep them safe? Well, what happens on their first day of kindergarten when you're not right there to stop them from climbing a too high structure that they've never learned to assess on their own.
Giving our children the tools and confidence to navigate this world with confidence, direction, and purpose IS the job. And I believe providing them these risky opportunities is the best way to set them up for a successful and joy-filled life.
Risky play has benefits ranging from Gross Motor development to Social-Emotional Learning.
I will link countless studies and references at the end of this article and I urge you to take a moment to review them if you have any doubts at all about the validity of the benefits of risky play. But I love how the Risk in Play and Learning: Ubud-Höör Declaration by the International School Grounds Alliance puts it.
“Since the world is full of risks, children need to learn to recognize and respond to them in order to protect themselves and to develop their own risk-assessment capabilities.” — Risk in Play and Learning: Ubud-Höör Declaration, International School Grounds Alliance
Outdoor play, risky play promotes countless skills needed for development and growth, some examples of skills I've observed during outdoor play are:
Spatial awareness through Stick Play. Through reminders and observation, we teach children to look all around them before engaging in any sort of stick play and closely supervise at all times. Allowing them to explore the boundaries of their "blood bubble" (aka if anyone is close enough to draw blood, they're too close!)
Empathy and teamwork as children work together to create habitats, forts, "creations", solve problems, and create freely.
Gross Motor skills through heavy work. Pushing logs, moving rocks, climbing, and running all develop core muscles (not to mention, makes for a peaceful naptime!)
Dexterity (pre-writing skills) through tree climbing.
Elemental awareness and risk analysis through fire safety training.
Coordination, confidence, and safety awareness through supervised tool use.
Sweet bajeesus hold on one second.
Did you just say FIRE?
With preschoolers? Are you out of your mind, lady??????
Well, the jury is still out on that one. But the science is on my side here, folks. When we take these High-Risk activities and implement Risk Management strategies, we mitigate risk and open up our days for boundless learning and fun.
So how do we do that? Well first off, here are a few terms, compiled by a great resource, Learning the Leaves:
Hazard: A hazard is something that could be dangerous to you or somebody else’s health or safety.
Risk: An action or activity that has the potential to have an undesired result(harming someone’s health or safety). It does not mean you definitely will end with the undesired result.
High Risk: An action or activity that is very likely to cause harm.
Low Risk: An action or activity that isn’t very likely to cause harm.
Accident: An unplanned, uncontrolled event, which leads to the injury of a person, damage to equipment, etc.
Near Miss: Where an accident that could have caused harm is only just avoided. These need to be recorded so that future action can be taken.
Incident: An incident is an event that happens. In terms of risk management, it refers to somebody’s health and safety being adversely affected.
Safety: Safety is the state of being safe from harm. Safety is achieved through Risk Management.
The most stand-out term to me here is Near Miss. And that's because near misses, so often, are overlooked, however, they are our greatest tool in mitigating future risk and taking action to turn high-risk activities and environments into low-risk opportunities for learning and fun.
While preparing to discuss this in Clubhouse for our Naptime Nature chats, I pulled all my favorite resources and websites, ready to answer questions and share what I know and am learning each day about risk management and risky play. But what I could not find was a resource to share that worked for those who are taking steps towards more outdoor play in the home environment but might not be at the Forest School leader level. And you asked for a checklist to help YOU mitigate and manage risk in your child's environment as a nanny, parent, or home-based educator.
So here it is.
Thanks for reading, and remember to
#getoutside every day!
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