Jun 15, 2011

Wrapped in cotton wool?

Last week’s NDNA conference included a fantastic line up of speakers, who provided some thought provoking sessions on a variety of issues. I particularly enjoyed hearing from Catherine Prisk of Play England, who’s session entitled ‘The benefits of risk in play opportunities in the Early Years’ might have struck a note of fear into many practitioners’ (and parents’) minds.

Over recent decades we have gradually tried to eliminate risk from the lives of our children, thinking that we are doing the best for them. Of course, no one wants their child to have an accident and be seriously hurt, but surely we all remember a time when we were children when we were hurt. We recovered and we became more resosurceful.

Play England champions the right of children to learn to manage risk, rather than to have that taken from them, usually for an adult to tell them what they can and can’t do. As an organisation they also support parents and early years professionals, to help them to ensure that children can have opportunities to test themselves, feel fear, find solutions, to gain mastery.

I loved a quote from a child, who when asked what ‘play’ was, said,

‘Play is what I do when you stop telling me what to do’.  Out of the mouths of babes, and all that…..

So, I am not advocating that we let the little ones do whatever they want, but we will be working hard on developing our resources (often outside) to allow them to set themselves challenges and learn to master them. At our Faringdon nursery we have a climbing wall, which is hugely popular with the pre-school children, who start off tentatively edging along it, then build up confidence til they can pick their way along it with ease. At Filkins Nursery we have a fairly new firepit, which the out of school club love for toasting marshmallows over and generally poking with sticks. We will be looking at giving our younger children a taste of this, carefully overlaid with rules of fire, respect for flames and a sense of rightful danger.

The biggest challenge? Well, as always, us adults, not the children! We need to communicate what we are doing and why to our parents, to make sure they understand how we are managing the risks and how we are helping the children to learn to do that for themselves. Right, time to go and climb a tree………


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