Children need to take risks in order to learn how to deal with the challenges and risks that form part of their everyday lives. If we overprotect our children, then how will they learn to manage the risks that surround them, both independently and safely? Children need to be able to self-assess risk to succeed in their young and adult lives. They need to learn to overcome fears of failure, to rebound confidently and learn from their mistakes. They need to know how to respond appropriately in a world full of risks as well as to be able to compete competitively in a world of risk-takers. What place could be better or more fun to help children to develop this skill, than in a park, a nursery or in a school playground?
Risk benefits (looking at the benefits gained from taking risks) usually outweigh any adverse effects from risks taken. As long as a playground is regularly monitored for dangerous hazards, that children would not be able to manage themselves, then any planned, age-appropriate risks can only help to develop children’s decision making and risk-assessing skills.
Past generations had a lot more freedom to roam and explore than young people do today. They were used to naturally taking risks during their play and would learn from their successes and mistakes without coming to too much harm. Sadly, today’s young people live in a world of health and safety regulations and therefore need to be provided with opportunities to be able to take risks in a more artificial world. School playgrounds and parks are an ideal setting to facilitate children learning to assess and deal with risk, so that they can confidently and safely deal with risk in the real world of work, in their futures.
When children play they naturally develop new skills, they gain in experience and confidence and their approach to risk will alter. They are drawn to danger and want to challenge themselves. They make countless decisions whilst deciding on what they’d like to risk doing physically, socially and emotionally. Children then naturally build up an awareness of their own personal limits and boundaries and this not only helps them to play safely, but also allows them to challenge themselves and to develop their personal play boundaries.
Through risk management, children will also develop important skills like courage, caution and resilience. To take advantage of this chance to naturally develop children’s ability to safely assess risk, nurseries, schools and parks should provide outdoor spaces that inspire children to explore, grow and test their boundaries and develop a secure approach to assessing and taking risks.
The International School Grounds Alliance, which works to enrich children’s learning and play by improving the way that school grounds are used, states:
“School grounds should not be as safe as possible, but as safe as necessary,” and that “Risk-taking opportunities are an essential component of any school ground.”
Here are 6 ways of actively promoting managed risk-taking in your setting:
1. Adventure Play
Introduce challenge and danger into your playground through physical risk taking. Equipment like Adventure Trails, Adventure Play Towers, Climbing Walls and Little Movers Range are ideal ways to introduce risk into adventure play. The children will need to assess risk and make decisions in order to complete a trail about how to traverse, ascend or descend to navigate the adventure equipment. They will need to plan, do and review their performance, whilst stretching their physical capabilities.
2. Sensory Play
Encourage your children to get messy or wet by using their senses; this provides a different type of risk to children: emotional risk. They may be experiencing something new, taking them outside of their comfort zone, so they will need to develop curiosity, courage and resilience towards discovering a new experience. For many children getting messy isn’t something they are used to, or for some children something they are allowed to do at home. So having fun in a Mud Kitchen, exploring in a Sand Construction Station, getting dirty by planting in a Planter or getting messy with the paints on a Poly Painting Station may challenge some children’s parameters. They will discover what they like, don’t like and will learn to deal with these emotions appropriately.
3. Creative Play
Provide open-ended opportunities to get creative. Often teamwork can help children to approach risk in a more considered way. They will be able to discuss alternative approaches and then be able to try out their theories and reflect on their results, without feeling the sole person responsible. For example, whilst using Den Building Posts, children will be able to take risks to see if the shelter they build will be safe and functional. They will make decisions on the materials used, the structure and the coverings.
They will learn how to carry resources safely and when appropriate learn to use tools to cut or fix the materials to improve their den. If they fail to create a satisfactory den, they will learn from their mistakes, learn from others, start to develop resilience and be able to try again.
4. Imaginative Play
Let your children experience social and emotional risk-taking in an age-appropriate, imaginative way. Role play can be an ideal medium to let your children immerse themselves in imaginative play, so they can practise being in different scenarios and learn how to respond. By practising social skills and learning to deal with their emotions in a make-believe scenario, they will learn to experiment and try out different responses.
By enabling young children to experiment in a safe environment, they will naturally take risks and learn from their discoveries and test out social boundaries. By telling a story or sharing factual information to friends on a Story Tellers Chair, children will start to develop the courage and skills to adapt to listeners responses and to perform in front of others, sharing their personal thoughts and ideas on an open stage.
By creating their own compositions on Outdoor Instruments, they will be taking the risk of receiving criticism as well as praise for their performance. However, if the criticism is constructive, they will benefit from revising their piece of music and benefitted in the long run, as well as learning to deal with advice.
5. Free Play
Allow the time for free exploration. Children are actively learning and discovering things for themselves when they are allowed free play at break times and during independent learning time. The Early Years Foundation Stage are experts at allowing child-led learning to take place, but all children benefit from being able to take charge of their learning and being given permission to experiment, take risks and to put their own ideas into practice.
Children will actively choose to take risks during free play, as they will naturally challenge their physical, emotional and social barriers during their own journeys of discovery. They just need to be given the time and permission to explore.
So if you’re feeling inspired to provide a safe, age-appropriate outdoor space that actively promotes risk-taking and develops effective risk management in your setting, please contact our experienced professional team at Schoolscapes, who will be able to collaborate with you to create the perfect outside learning environment, where risk benefits knock the socks off risk! What better way to prepare your learners for the real world out there, a world full of risk and decision making?