During a class last year discussing the importance of children taking risks in play to further support their development and independence, I was asked by a student "How I supervise children's 'risky play', what happens if the children hurt themselves?, and how do you impose limits to ensure their safety?"
It took me a while to respond. I had never consciously taken the time to reflect on the how's and why's, it just seemed to evolve, I understood the children's capabilities and trusted them and they in turn trusted me if I asked a question of their play or made a 'safety suggestion'. I had difficulty with the term 'imposing limits'. Why should I impact on the learning if the risk is calculated and the children are safe? I guess I was picturing a carer walking around the yard barking orders or nagging "Put that back. That's not safe, or STOOOOOP!"
So I began to reflect on how we ensure the children's safety while creating an environment rich in learning, play and risk.
Throughout the year we discussed incidentally and purposefully with children the importance of their making safe choices in play, keeping our friends safe and respecting the toys and equipment. Educators take the time during play or while guiding behaviours to point out "What would happen if?", ''What could we do to make it safer?" and "Is it a safe choice?" Quite often we could hear children asking each other 'Is that a safe choice?" They began to guide each other and learn to take calculated risks. Towards the latter part of the year the children even began explaining why they had chosen to use certain pieces of equipment, which I will illustrate later.
Of course a HUGE part of supervision in risk is knowing the children. As an educator, knowing and understanding what the children can do and achieve both individually and in groups and the interplay within the groups. Understanding that each child will have their own skill set and capabilities and be close to offer support, when and if needed.
Another important element is setting the playspace, allowing room for the children to evolve their ideas and concepts, having enough 'loose parts' available to support their extensions, ensuring you can still observe or better yet be part of the experience and allowing movement of the objects if needed.
A few weeks after the question from the student, I was invited to take part in a play experience that some of the 3 and 4 year old children were developing.
It began simply enough, one child (R) wanted to create a "wall to keep the other kids out cause they keep messing me up". He invited a close peer (I) to help him. (I) followed (R) to the tyre and together they tried to lift and manoeuvre it. Rain from previous days had settled in the tyre and weighed it down. I could hear them heaving and hoeing, (R) looked up and (L) was watching the two. (R) said to (L) "you can help us make the wall if you want, but you need to be really really strong" (L) quickly joined the group and they negotiated the tyre up and onto its side, rolling it along the path and squealing in delight as the water began gushing out. ( I can already hear some of you shocked - what, children move tyres themselves, that s not safe, what if they hurt themselves or somebody else)
The three then set about climbing, jumping and exploring, practicing skills, observing each other to acquire new skills and gaining confidence as they mastered them.
How do you support children to take risks at your service?