Taking risks enables us to try new experiences. Without an element of bravery, we would never have the confidence to start a new job, learn new things and skills, make new friends or move to a new house. Don’t all the important decisions in life involve risk?
Risk-takers might go to college or university, learn to drive, have relationships and children, try new sports and embark on careers. Some may become astronauts and explorers, others might run schools and charities or hospitals and governments. Taking risks means being prepared to get it wrong but knowing that the rewards are worthwhile. For a risk-taker, the world is exciting and a little bit scary, but never dull.
Isn’t that what we want for our children, too?
It’s our responsibility as Early Years practitioners and as parents to encourage children to take risks from the very start. But that is quite a challenge sometimes, isn’t it? Like all parents, I know just how alarming tree-climbing can be – when you’re the adult watching from the ground! In fact, just like the proverbial kitten, our brave, fearless daughter got stuck up a tree last summer and had to be rescued. But she continues to climb because she believes that she can do it. Last summer’s scare wasn’t proof of failure – it was a learning experience and she does it differently now (avoiding wobbly branches.)
For these reasons, the Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum actively requires us to promote risk-taking, too, by creating environments which “offer support for children to take risks and explore….. Encourage children to try new activities and to judge risks for themselves.”
Of course we don’t want children to hurt themselves falling from a balancing beam or scare themselves to the point of tears because they can’t get down from the top of the slide. We don’t want them to feel humiliated because they can’t remember the words to a song at grouptime. Or nervous about trying a new game in front of their friends. So how can we adults help? By using supportive language and maintaining eye contact. By respecting children’s ideas so that they feel safe to take a risk and of course by staying aware so that we preempt serious dangers. Most importantly of all, by allowing them to take that risk. Sometimes it’s appropriate to talk to older children about the risks first and sometimes it’s better to take a back seat and let them work it out for themselves.
What should we avoid? Well, my opinion is that the only thing we can do wrong is hover uncertainly and call out “Be careful!” every few minutes. Children must assess their own abilities in order to take risks and well-meaning adults have a tendency to make those decisions for them. Try taking your child to a forest for a play and challenge yourself to not use the word careful for the entire afternoon.
Then let us know how you get on…it’s not easy!