Wild At Heart
Mike Wragg, senior lecturer in Playwork at Leeds Metropolitan University, on why children need some risk in their play.
“ By eliminating risk from children’s play, we’re making them less safe.”
Each year, I ask new students to draw a picture of their fondest childhood play memories. Until recently, these pictures all shared certain
characteristics: the play was generally outdoors; it involved a large number of friends; adults were conspicuous by their absence and a genuine sense of risk and danger was almost always present. In more recent years, these liberated depictions of childhood play have given way to less inspiring images. The great outdoors has been replaced by the walls of the bedroom, and adults are ever-present chaperones in the increasingly restricted lives of children. This development appears to be a consequence of an unhealthy obsession with the over-protection of our children. The causes are often cited as an increasingly dangerous society, health and safety legislation, and a prevailing culture of litigation.
Yet most of these explanations are unfounded. Firstly, the threat of stranger-danger, which typifies adult concerns for children's safety, is no greater today than it has ever been. Secondly, providing appropriate assessments are conducted, there are no laws or rules to prohibit young children from engaging in risky and adventurous play -in fact, official advice to practitioners is to ensure that children encounter more risk in their play. The EYFS states:
"Being over-protected can prevent children from learning about possible dangers and about how to protect themselves from harm."
Thirdly, the number of legal actions brought against childcare settings has been declining for several years.
Bright Beginnings Childcare Centre, a nursery in Leeds, has taken an enlightened and positive approach by combining proactive risk assessment with an appropriately risky play environment. From the age of two, the children there are introduced to the risks and wonder of the natural world by making regular visits to their allotment. Here they can use hammers and saws, encounter nettles, brambles and other thorny plants, cook on open fires,
climb trees, build dens, get filthy - and occasionally have the sort of accidents that one would expect of a freely playing, happy child.
Risk assessment shouldn't be about restricting opportunities to encounter risk, it should be about increasing them. Managing Risk in Play Provision: Implementation Guide is available to download from: www.teachernet.gov.uk/publications
Appropriate policies are important. The Big Swing, an adventure playground in Bradford, has a risk policy which states: "Children playing at the Big Swing will occasionally hurt themselves."
Remember the ways you loved playing as a child... Don't underestimate children's ability to manage their own risk-taking.
Published in :- 'Early Years' Department for Education Summer 2010