Jun 15, 2011

The NDNA Conference: Encouraging Risk in Early Years Play

Young child taking part in Yoga

The recent NDNA conference featured an exciting lineup of speakers who delved into various pressing topics.

One standout session, “The benefits of risk in play opportunities in the Early Years,” led by Catherine Prisk of Play England, sparked important discussions about the role of risk in children’s play. It’s a topic that might initially stir some anxiety among both practitioners and parents.

Redefining Risk in Children’s Lives

In recent decades, there has been a growing trend to eliminate risk from children’s lives in the name of safety. While no one wishes harm on their child, we all remember our own childhood experiences, which occasionally involved minor accidents. These mishaps provided opportunities for recovery and growth, helping us become more resourceful.

Play England advocates for children’s right to learn to manage risk, emphasizing that adults should not simply remove this element from their lives. Instead, they support parents and early years professionals in providing opportunities for children to test themselves, experience fear, find solutions, and achieve mastery.

A child’s definition of “play” perfectly captures this sentiment: “Play is what I do when you stop telling me what to do.”

Promoting Safe Challenges and Mastery

The goal is not to allow children unbridled freedom but to develop resources, often outdoors, that enable them to set challenges and learn to master them. For example, at our Faringdon nursery, we’ve introduced a climbing wall that preschool children enjoy. They start cautiously but gradually build confidence, eventually navigating the wall with ease. At Filkins Nursery, we’ve added a firepit, a hit among the out-of-school club, where they toast marshmallows and explore with sticks. The plan is to introduce our younger children to these experiences, coupled with strict safety guidelines, respect for fire, and an understanding of potential danger.

The Real Challenge: Educating Adults

The biggest hurdle in this journey is often the adults, not the children. We must effectively communicate what we are doing and why to parents, ensuring they comprehend how we manage risks and how this benefits the children, allowing them to develop crucial risk management skills. It’s time to embrace the idea that taking calculated risks is a valuable part of a child’s development.


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