Risk in the Outdoors

This afternoon I was asked to have a chat with a teacher about a particular child in their school. Some of you may know that last January I started doing some work with youngsters who were struggling with the whole primary school environment. One of the topics that came up in our conversation today was the need for children to develop the ability to risk assess their own activities. I have used this opportunity for self-guided learning both in a classroom context and also when working with individuals.

As a class teacher, enabling a whole class to risk assess an outdoor, medieval cooking session opened my eyes to some of the benefits of children participating in group risk assessments. They worked out, through brainstorming together, who and what might be at risk and what these risks might be. They then had the chance to discuss how they might lower these potential risks to a more acceptable level. Once this was achieved we headed outside to do the cooking on a fire.

That afternoon I experienced children actively supporting each other by reminding each other to be careful, reminding each other where they should be walking (to stay safe from the fire) how to move the hot pans and hot food. They looked out for each other and I was redundant as a purveyor of the tedious health and safety. The article below states,

“Because we care about children, and due to shifting societal norms, we can tend to over-protect them. Researchers have shown that by sheltering our children too much, they fail to develop “proprioceptive sense” (ie. muscle and joint control) and even a simple game such as tag can ironically become dangerous because the children lack the basic skills to “play gently.” Some schools have even started banning tag games because the kids are reportedly unable to self-regulate and are unintentionally seriously injuring each other, according to occupational therapist Angela Hanscom. These children have not been given a chance to develop the risk assessment skills that Stacy’s young sons are already learning. This can lead them to not only have a stunted ability to assess and manage risks, but to lack resiliency, defined by Angela Lee Duckworth as “having a positive response to failure or adversity.”

It is so important we give our children opportunities to assess risk for themselves to develop personal resilience and avoid potential later mental health problems. Hospitals are observing now that fewer children are going to A&E with broken arms and legs, but so many more are now on waiting lists for mental health support. Perhaps there is a correlation?

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