Children need environments that are free from hazard to ensure that they can satisfy their natural curiosity and desire for novelty and challenge. These types of play spaces will afford them opportunities to take risks without compromising their safety, while building their esteem and self-regulation skills. Allowing children to take risks is a challenge for many adults, especially for those who are risk-averse or afraid of children getting hurt.
Think about how you feel when you view children climbing up a tree or a climber. Think about children climbing up steep hills. Do you embrace these opportunities or hear yourself saying, “be careful”, “don’t fall” or “maybe you should not do this”? Early learning teachers are encouraged to provide children with ample opportunities to be in environments where they can take on physical challenges and be allowed to try play that has some risk attached to it. Risk taking contributes to children:
Despite its benefits, many early learning teachers often express their concerns about the strict provincial or site standards and regulations that they must abide by that they believe reduce the children’s play options. Others have shared their personal concern about a child being hurt in their care and what the response will be from parents and/or their supervisor. Perhaps by thinking about risk as a healthy phase of development, educators will continuously find strategies to help facilitate those play options for children (Dietze, 2016).
There are many strategies that early learning teachers may use to begin the dialogue with colleagues, parents and children on risk taking. Here are our top ten ideas.
- Parents may require support to encourage children in being able to take risks. Provide parents information about the relationship of risk taking to child development and learning in newsletters and on web sites.
- Invite parents to engage in outdoor risky play times with children and staff. This allows staff to highlight the types of play that are supporting risk-taking opportunities.
- Educators and children create pedagogical documentation that visually shows children engaged in risk-taking play. Include key points on how the play in the photos support risk taking.
- Educators examine their philosophy on and feelings about risk taking. As a group, they take inventory of the personal feelings of the team and then collectively develop strategies that will balance positions and roles during outdoor experiences so that children’s risk-taking adventures will be encouraged and supported.
- Educators engage in observing children’s skills and then create opportunities for them to advance risk taking. Scaffolding experiences supports children’s success in their risk-taking play.
- Educators create challenging environments by providing a range of heavy loose parts such as ropes and rocks, differing terrain, materials that allow children to create large structures, and play spaces that allow for freedom to explore.
- Educators become conscious of their language with children during the outdoor exploration. They reduce the natural instinct to say “No! That is dangerous” and determine if the act is dangerous or if children are being overprotected.
- Educators examine procedures and practices at least every six months to ensure that they are addressing hazards and risks appropriately.
- Educators engage in professional development that shares current research on children and risk taking.
- Educators reflect upon the following:
- How do adults help children make decisions about the risks they wish to take?
- How do adults support children in helping children learn from their risks, especially with those that are not successful?
- How do you offer children support for some of their explorations without reducing their enthusiasm for their potential idea?
- How do you communicate with families about the value of children’s risk taking and how often do you have such communication?
- How do you continue to develop your knowledge and comfort for risk taking?
We invite you to answer some of these questions in the comment section and also go back to the number you chose out of ten at the beginning of the module about your comfort level with risky play. Do you want to change that number? Are you more comfortable or less comfortable?