Providing a Safe Risk-Taking Environment

Posted on 1st May, 2020

Nicky English, our Head of Nursery, talks about how children learn in a safe risk-taking environment:

Risks are positive things; hazards are negative. You plan your risk assessment to deal with hazards. It is very easy, in today’s society of unrealistic accountability, for an Early Years environment to be in danger of becoming ‘risk averse’.

As Nursery teachers, we are in the unique but sometimes controversial position of actively encouraging risk-taking. We are required to keep children safe from harm while at the same time encouraging them to be active learners. Inevitably, this involves taking risks. Children need challenges and excitement. It is important that they learn to assess and take manageable risks.  The ‘danger setting’ they might find themselves in is that if the play environment is ‘made’ too safe, such is the nature of children that they will seek their own thrills - possibly taking risks that are even more dangerous.

Young children only have a limited understanding of the risks that surround them. However, every time they fall over, bang their head or scrape their knees they are learning from these experiences. Adults often try to create a risk-free environment, but this can reduce children’s opportunities to manage their own risk, making it difficult for them to learn how to judge new situations. We have a responsibility to develop a child’s decision-making and risk reasoning and support them to develop these as competencies in our nurseries.

Spending time in our Woodland School, in Christ Church Meadow, as well as in our Nursery garden, gives children the opportunity to develop their risk intelligence. We offer very strong learning opportunities for children to gain confidence and self-esteem through being encouraged to cope independently. Outdoor play, in particular, scaffolds a child’s experience in taking intelligent, social and moral risks as well as physical ones. It offers an opportunity to use imagination, communication and negotiation skills. A child will learn about making relationships and overcoming personal challenge.  The thinking that occurs during free play is intrinsically motivated and therefore meaningful, and children thrive when their learning experiences are fuelled by a spirit of adventure.

It is with genuine conviction that I believe a child’s creative experiences must be encouraged and nurtured throughout the entire curriculum. Outdoor activities help the children to develop personal, social, problem-solving and emotional skills, whilst continually learning about their natural environment and the world around them. At Christ Church Nursery, our aim is to encourage and inspire children. Through the positive experiences and their participation in motivating and ‘achievable’ activities, they will flourish and develop numerous skills. Not only are the children benefiting but we are also fulfilling our obligation to provide a safe environment for decisions that involve risk-taking. Other benefits from their play are the exposure to emotional risk - emotions such as anxiety, pleasure, thrill, boredom, success and failure. A child engaged in play will need to understand rules and learn how to adapt them to accommodate others, arguably an essential life skill. As teachers, we need to weigh up the pros and cons of risk-taking. Thinking about individual children in context, before dismissing all risky play activities as dangerous, ensures that there is provision for all.


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