Taking risks

Risk is a natural part of our existence, as we look to explore and make sense of the world around us. What is key is undertaking a Risk Benefit Analysis – to work out whether an activity is genuinely risky, what the benefits are, and what can be put in place to mitigate or reduce the chance of any risks actually occurring. During our Outdoors and Active Project, this was also a factor – and so we developed some suggested guidance on the topic which we’ve included below. In order to explore the wider world – it’s vital that the world isn’t just brought in, but that children go out and experience place for themselves – and so carefully understanding and being aware of these potential issues as practitioners enables us to support and scaffold these explorations more effectively. It will maximise their educative benefit, and the learning for all the children involved.

Outdoors and Active Risk Guidance

Human beings are “hardwired” to take risks, from birth. Babies take their first independent breaths; they decide to try crawling and walking and then running; they try new foods; they see a tree and want to climb it. Sadly, an increasingly risk averse society is making it difficult for young children to explore the wider world around them. Play and first hand experiences are the key ways in which young children learn the skills and abilities they need for life, we do them no favours by preventing them from pushing the boundaries of their physicality. Even the Health and Safety Executive says, “The goal is not to eliminate risk, but to weigh up the risks and benefits. No child will learn about risk if they are wrapped in cotton wool”. Serious injuries are of course to be avoided, however children do need experience of how to react when they do encounter genuine danger.

When you’re out and about with children, aim to enable them to take risks, not prevent them. Risk taking is good for children: taking risks is exhilarating, and children want and need to take risks. Our role as adults is to make sure we enable this, without placing them in actual danger. It’s essential to evaluate the hazards honestly, not just focusing in on the worst-case scenario, but also considering the likelihood of serious injury and what children will gain by participating in the activity. This is called the “risk benefit” approach to using the local environment, and in the UK it has been developed and recommended by the Health and Safety Executive, and even the Department for Education.

So each time you take children out into the local environment, or try an activity that makes you anxious, try the Outdoors and Active Common Sense Top Tips to help them stay as safe as necessary:

  • Focus on the positive aspects of the trip – the connection with natural materials and the “real world” around them, the connection with the built environment, the connection with places they visit with families and friends or have a significant interest in will all lead to a deeper knowledge of the Understanding the World area of learning.
  • Evaluate the hazards honestly: is this trip genuinely risky? How likely is it that a child will get hurt? How serious could the injury be? If potential injuries are minor (cuts and grazes), or unlikely, then the benefits will probably outweigh the risks.
  • Build confidence by using positive language. If your language is fearful (don’t go there/do that; come down, its too high; that’s dangerous) children will develop anxiety, not confidence. Say instead, “show me how careful you can be” or “where do you think would be a safe place to cross the road?” and ask them to talk you through their decision-making.
  • Make time for the trip. Accidents often happen simply because we are in a rush, and lose concentration. Give children plenty of time to get to the destination and back again, whether it’s in the park, the canal, the museum or the shops. Being generous with your time is one of the most important things you can do to help children to deepen their understanding of their place in the local environment.
  • Apply common sense.

More from the Exploring the Wider World project