Thursday, 19 January 2012

Discussing Risk

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)

I  had thought about this and as I said earlier I knew the capabilities of these three children both individually and working in groups.   I weighed up the 'risk' compared to the 'learning', already the children had demonstrated amazing social, team skills, communication and negotiation skills not to mention cognitive concepts.  I was eager to see where it would lead. After placing the first tyre down the trio ran off to source more tyres, sometimes wheeling them back individually, other times in pairs.  (L) chose to push a tyre by herself and lost control dropping the tyre with her finger underneath (yes there was an accident, albeit a very minor one) however rather than being upset (L) looked at the educator "That wasn't safe of me was it? I should have waited for the boys" called them over to help her and continued on her merry way.
When all of the tyres were in place, a discussion occurred between the three on the best way to position them. (R) wanted them leaning against the step (I) said "but that makes them to wobbly and I can't climb the wobbly ones" the group continued negotiations and had many ideas.  I asked if they needed some extra help and began talking through each idea with them.

(R) was persistent that he wanted the tyres "wobbly" so as a group we set them up as a trial. (I) quickly balanced on one "See (R) they are just not OK, too wobbly"  I observed (R) silent and watching as (I) tried to negotiate his way to the top. (R) supported his friend as he neared the top "Look (I) is nearly there he can do it."  (I) stumbled a little at the top and quickly jumped from the tyres "NAH, its too wobbly"  (L) attempted to climb the tyres and stumbled, slipping into the centre of the tyre, she quickly looked up at the boys "hey lets stack them" All three were in excited agreement and began negotiating the stacks. Working together and asking the educator for a little assistance to make sure the tyres were safe and wouldn't topple.

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.

I was delighted to share this experience with the students next time I taught them.  This helped to illustrate what we had been talking about all those weeks earlier.  It generated plenty of debate about safety and other educators not allowing it to happen at the centres the students worked in and I left them with this thought.  " If we are truly to say we are implementing a play based, child focused program in our centres, then we need to be prepared to facilitate play, not quash it before it has a chance to grow and develop.  The creativity and learning, both individual and as a collective that occurred for these children in the space of 40 minutes would never have happened had I told them that the tyres can only be used for one purpose, can't be moved by the children or worse still, have to stay in one place. What skills have they learnt that will support them through life?" 

How do you support children to take risks at your service?

1 comment:

  1. I have taken the following comment from the link I put on the Coonara EarIy Years Training Facebook site regarding the article. My fellow Tutor Lynne is very passionate about play as am I.

    "I couldn't agree more with her point of view. An excellent article explaining all the ways she made the risky situation safe. The children learned heaps about themselves, their limits, their negotiation skills and a whole lot more. They will be more able to stay safe with their new understandings. Oh and by the way - When I was teaching I always let the kinder children move the tyres and other relatively "heavy" equipment for exactly the reasons explained in the article. I firmly believe there needs to be more safe and on-the- edge challenges for children. Will future adults ever be able to take calculated risks in life if they don't have a chance to practice in a controlled environment? We need risk-takers to inspire others to greater efforts."