Wild Family Fun

Tales of living, working and enjoying life in the outdoors


My Sunday Photo

This is my daughter, kayaking for the first time on fast moving water.

I was an absolute bag of nerves watching her but, at the same time, I felt so proud at seeing her paddling and not letting her fear get the better of her.

This picture makes her look so scared, but she still carried on paddling through, and went on for another hour!

Photalife

Exploring Risk in Play

At the moment, I’m providing a lovely Family Engagement project at two local primary schools in Cardiff. The aim of the project is to encourage parents and children to come together after school, and have an opportunity to play and be creative together.

We’ve a had a few weeks together now and, as I get to know the group, I always like the idea of introducing a fire-building activity. It’s a great way of teaching the children about fire safety and the correct way of working with fire. It also shows the parents that a little bit of risk is a good thing and, actually, children are really good at recognizing and managing risk during play.

My fire-building activity is run over two sessions, the first being an introduction to fire. We talk about risks, how to use fire and be around fire safely. We look at the equipment and talk about how we use it, and this gives me an idea on how the children react around the subject. It’s good for me to know that I can trust the group; if I am in any doubt about safety issues, I’ll leave the actual fire building session to a later date or, with some groups, perhaps fires may not the best or safest activity for them.

So, sitting in the classroom, we spoke about using a flint and steel to get the fire going. I demonstrate the process and, at the start, you do see the fear in some children’s eyes, as they’ve been told to never play with fire because it’s dangerous. Of course, it is when used in the wrong way, but with correct teaching comes respect, and it stops becoming the scary forbidden thing that children are often warned about.

We then move outside to the open playground. Here, the children make a little table of sticks and a ball of cotton wool is placed on top. The children then get to have a go at lighting the cotton wool in a safe and controlled environment. We always have a bowl of water at the side, (just in case), and the children take it in turns to strike the spark, so that they learn to wait and to observe the rules of our fire session.

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Luckily, I’ve never had any child go out of control, or act dangerously with this activity. They really understand how to behave around the fire, and always use the equipment correctly. It’s lovely to watch and to be a part of this discovery process.

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I believe that, sadly, in the society that we currently live in, we can wrap our children up in cotton wool in an attempt to shield them from too many potential hazards and risks. Many of these things were simply play experiences to me and my peers and, as children we were allowed to explore, discover and evaluate the safest way to avoid risks in play.

The current trend seems to almost promote “safe, indoor, computerised” activities, by telling children not to climb the tree in case you fall and break your leg, don’t play outside when its rainy because you’ll get a cold, and don’t jump in the puddle as you’ll ruin your shoes. As parents, I think we’ve all said these things to our children at some time or another, but didn’t we do all of these things when we were kids, and didn’t love it.

I think that a little bit of risky play works well in a safe environment and the children know that if they act responsibly, behave well and enjoy the session, the following week they get to enjoy a huge mug of hot chocolate and toast marshmallows on the fire that they helped to make!

 

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Is “Risk” a Benefit within Play?

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.

Adventures when the winter weather sets in.

My daughter has had a few sessions at a local indoor climbing centre and every time she has always come away wanting to book in another session, so as the cold weather sets in, indoor climbing is a great way of getting children active and engaged with a really fun and adventurous activity.

Recently we met a few friends at Boulder to give the girls an active Sunday morning of climbing. The girls had a go at the practice wall, trying to move around the corner without falling off and then we played some good team games where they had to work together to balance on the wall and start thinking about hand holds and the shapes of their bodies.

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After the warm up and a quick drink, they were ready to hit the wall. The girls were great in waiting turns, helping and encouraging each other with where to go and always giving each other high fives and confidence boosts when someone would complete their climb. It was lovely to see and us Mums didn’t have to encourage this, we all agreed how naturally it came from the girls.

They tried different walls and challenges and never gave up, always trying to reach a bit higher each time. They also had challenges of tieing themselves into their harnesses and remembering their ‘figure of eight knot’, all useful skills for future climbing sessions.

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The best thing however wasn’t how high they climbed or the quickest climb but was how the girls acted with each other. It was a brilliant team activity and normally that doesn’t happen in a climbing session as climbing can be a bit of an individual activity or sport. The girls {and Mums} had a lovely time and we’re currently thinking of starting our own climbing club with hoodies and motivating mottos!

So when the weather makes it hard for our usual outdoor adventures indoor climbing is a great way to introduce elements of risk taking, exercise, team work, confidence building and best of all fun!

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Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

 



Learning for Life