News from the Wild – Week 7

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Sometimes you have to live vicariously through others’ exploration of risk.

One of the best things outdoor play offers children is the opportunity to take risks. For many of us, risk might have negative connotations. If we can easily imagine a terrible outcome, the activity seems riskier to us, even if the probability is very low.

And yet, children need risk. It is when they step outside of their comfort zones that learning happens. Facing risky situations helps children self-assess for risk – is it safe? Can I do it? What might happen if I try? What might happen if I fail?

What is risky to one child may not be risky to another. To one it is risky to climb a tree. To another to act out a part in play. To another to try to draw a picture and write his name. To another to touch that beetle.

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Most – but not all – of the Oaks put on a play about bad guys trying to steal the King’s gold. On a slippery stage.

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The guard battles the bad guy, while the princess stands safely to the side and the spy and the thief lie in wait. Bad guys, weapons and fighting are all explorations of risk through dramatic play.

When you take risks, you learn to accept failure as part of the process. You might not manage the first time, but you problem-solve and persevere. Risk-taking helps develop resiliency and a growth mindset.

Now think about what nature has to offer: trees to climb of every height and difficulty; rocky, rooty, unpredictable terrain; dense maze-like thickets of bamboo; logs of every height and size for balance-walking; streams, puddles and ponds with sucking mud and murky water; beetles and spiders and millipedes; weather of all types. Physical risk-taking  builds gross motor strength, coordination and motor planning. Willingness to take physical risks is linked to social and intellectual risk-taking. One leads to the others.

And just think about how you feel when you do succeed! The bigger the risk, the greater the sense of accomplishment, confidence and competence.

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A new place the Oaks are calling “The Climbing Secret Passageway,” because “You have to climb and then you have to find your way out.”

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At the Bamboo Castle – “We made it through!”

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Cleaning their teeth with sassafras leaves. Trying new foods is risk-taking too.

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Building a trip-wire trap “for Donald J. Trump.” There are rocks inside for a “very uncomfortable landing.” So dangerous, even its construction requires the use of safety goggles.

Our job as teachers and parents is to help children differentiate between risky and hazardous. You might hear us saying things like: “That stick is too long (or too heavy) to safely swing.” “You can throw small things, like acorns at the target, but if you throw a large rock and miss, what might happen?” “That next branch looks too small to hold your weight.” “How will you get down once you get up?”

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Thrown acorns at a target on a tree. Lunch-time activity set up to replace the more hazardous activity of throwing acorns at each other.

We need to think “as safe as necessary” not “as safe as possible”* If we eliminate all risk from children’s lives, how will they ever learn to think for themselves and choose wisely? What will happen when they are older and the risks even greater?

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Bow saws are used with teacher assistance.

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Cooking up some troll potion. A little imaginary danger is a necessary ingredient to play.

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Negotiating the rules of the game. How will the superheroes get their powers from the sky? Social dramatic play involves risk – of creativity, self-assertion and acceptance of others’ ideas. You won’t always get your way.

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All the superheroes have to stand on the platform at the same time, and THEN pull the branch to download their powers.

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Sorting and counting leaves collected on a leaf hunt. Doesn’t sound too risky…unless your friend can count easily to 32 green leaves and you are still working on it. Intellectual challenges are risky for all of us.

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Each of us, as adults, also has a different comfort level with risk. Some of us might be heard saying, “Wow, you’re really high!” and others “Careful!” Both have their place in keeping children safe while also allowing them to test their limits and grow.

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The children race down the hill towards the next waypoint. We give them the freedom to run ahead, not too far, but far enough.

Books this week:

Slop – Welsh folktale retold by Margaret Read McDonald

Fletcher and the Falling Leaves by Julia Rawlinson

Counting on the Woods by George Ella Lyons

One Grain of Rice by Demi

Lousy Rotten, Stinkin’ Grapes by Margie Palatini

* http://www.playengland.org.uk/media/172644/managing-risk-in-play-provision.pdf

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