Risk Averse or Risk Diverse?


The following article was submitted by Glenn Denny, CALA Training Officer:

I think we can acknowledge that we live in a culture of “blame” which has led to some practitioners feeling apprehensive about promoting opportunities for risk in play. Is now the time we make a stand against the perceived norm and reclaim children’s right to experience risk?

I was fortunate enough to stumble across what I consider to be a brilliantly written series of articles in the Play for Wales magazine produced by Play Wales, the national body for the promotion of play opportunities for Wales. One of the first articles that grabbed my attention spent a great deal of time busting those self-perpetuating myths surrounding Health and Safety.

Mention Health and Safety to some practitioners and you may be met with one of two responses; either a roll of the eyes or a shudder of fear. Sadly the latter might be more common than the former! Written by Judith Hackett CBE, chair of the Health and Safety Executive, she actively encourages practitioners to promote that adventure and challenge of risky play. She states “Wrapping children up in cotton wool achieves nothing. Children who grow up unable to anticipate and deal with risk can lack self-confidence and may be less prepared to make decisions as adults.” Promoting ‘Confident Individuals’ is at the heart of everything we do for the children in our care so we don’t want to be missing out on such a huge opportunity to encourage this confidence. Is that myth still floating around that HSE wouldn’t approve? Well perhaps we might consider it banished as Judith Hackett says in her eye-opening article “HSE never seeks to ban activities on the basis that they pose a risk to those taking part. We take account of the wider benefits to physical and mental health and to society as a whole. This is exactly how we ought to view children’s play.”

Play which involves risk and adventure is truly individual to the child as they will all have different ways of approaching the challenge not to mention differing physical and cognitive abilities. Facilitating a child’s access to a supportive environment to explore and problem solve is truly inclusive. If you stop and think about it for a moment, a child who has a disability will explore challenge and risk in a different way to a child without a disability, they still get to the same point of the challenge just doing it in different way. Further on in the same issue of Play for Wales an article by Ally John, an equality, diversity and inclusion writer, makes the valid point “As responsible adults we have a responsibility for keeping children safe but this extends to supporting all children and young people to manage risk for themselves, not just physical risk but also the intellectual, social and emotional risk they expose themselves to.” Food for thought!

Ally John goes on to say “All children need and want to take risks as they play, enabling them to test their limits, undertake new experiences and develop their skills. Children would never learn to ride a bicycle, swim, climb a tree or use a skateboard unless they were intrinsically motivated to respond to challenges that involve the risk of failing or being injured.” How can we progress the capabilities and resilience of the children we care for if we wrap them up in cotton wool?

The articles in this magazine certainly were thought provoking. If you’re a practitioner in childcare and learning you may be interested in reading more. http://www.playwales.org.uk/eng/magazine and ‘My World Outdoors’ 2016 http://hub.careinspectorate.com/improvement/my-world-outdoors/

– Glenn Denny, CALA Training Officer

2 replies
  1. Stephanie Bruce
    Stephanie Bruce says:

    Thanks for this thought provoking piece Glenn; I’m sure the subject of risk in play will strike a chord with many of our colleagues and followers.

  2. Norma Ruettimann
    Norma Ruettimann says:

    Thanks for sharing this interesting thinking, particularly about the use of terminology – ‘adventurous’ has a really positive feel to it and might just support different thinking about risk in play.


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