I’ve wanted to write this post for a long time and, after completing my Forest School training, I now feel suitably qualified and confident enough to talk about “risk” within play.
My training covered so much about why risk is important within play, how we can manage risk, the value of risk assessments (a vast and lengthy topic), and what are the benefits of “risk” within play. For someone like me, who’s worked in play and outdoor pursuits for many years, it can be easier for me to accept that risk is a part of play, and that children need it to develop many important skills.
I’m comfortable with my daughter taking risks. We mange her adventurous nature. We teach her about appropriate behaviour and boundaries. I feel she’s developed a safe and responsable attitude to risk-taking. She knows how far she can climb up a tree and what branches are safe to take her weight. She understands when that, we go kayaking, Mum is there if she falls out and because she has on a buoyancy aid, she’ll pop up to the surface and I’ll be there to keep her safe. I believe these are important life skills for the future.
But what are the benefits of risk within play?
Children develop their emotions and intelligence through play. It offers a chance to enhance a variety of important developmental needs such as emotional development, social interaction, physical improvements, confidence skills, as well as communication and language skills. And that’s just a small example of what play opportunities and play experience offers to children.
Risk will always be a factor in most forms of play.
It can be a scary word to use. When working for a Local Authority, it means that it is easy to become caught up in lots of red tape, when trying to convince people and parents that allowing children to engage in well-managed risky play is a benefit. I wish that I had a penny for each time I’ve had a conversation with a parent, who vehemently says “My son is not going out for a walk in the woods as it’s too dangerous”.
Of course, (as with all things in life), there will always be a danger. However, our activities are always risked-assessed, and there are always a minimum of 2 well-trained, vigilant and responsable staff present. We provide appropriate outdoor kit and clothing, and (really) why would I let anything happen to a child under my care. I wouldn’t accept any misfortune to a child as an outdoor worker, or as a parent. Luckily, the majority of parents we work with trust us, and know us well enough to accept that their children will be well looked after when they’re out on an activity with us and, most importantly, those children will be safely supervised while they have fun, being left to their own imagination!
What we’ve found, in recent months, is the heightened level of health and safety, and risk assessment that we must go through, in order to show how well we have assessed our activities. We constantly re-assess those qualifications needed to run any activity and, as professionals, we continually look at every aspect and potential danger, in order to ensure that all our activities are as safe as they can be.
However, I understand why we have to do this, (and to complete mountains of paperwork), as it protects us, and the people that we take out on various activities. Sometimes, I do wonder when will risk assessments, and the “cotton-wool” society in which we live, stop worrying quite so much.
As my father keeps telling me, it’s not like it was in the 70’s, when kids played in the streets ’til dark, came home when they were hungry, and we all looked out for our youngsters. But, we can, (and do), do our best to keep that spirit alive, albeit within “managed risk” activities.