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The Effective Early Learning Project based at Worcester University highlights two ways in which adults can help children progress; The first is the way the adult encourages the child to be autonomous, to get on and try new things; The second, is the way the adult offers experiences which are stimulating, challenging and interesting. Adults need to be a supporting factor when the child is in a ‘risky’ environment.
Children and adults alike enjoy climbing trees; adults know when they are too high as do children. This is a whole other debate in terms of nature or nurture debate. This is where we could explore the idea of children learning to be safe when risk taking or is it already ‘there’. Stephenson (2003) wrote about a child on a swing, ‘Swinging was very popular with these younger children, but more often than the older children their reactions indicated that they felt unsafe and wanted the swing slowed down’. Therefore the child has taken the risk, has agreed a boundary, enjoyed the activity and acknowledged the safety aspect. The adult was there to ensure the safety and also make the activity a positive one by being readily available.
Children must face all different kinds of risks in order to support their development and learning. Stine (1997) wrote that to support their learning and development is a complex issue. There always has to be provision for a physical challenge. More and more educational settings are using outdoor play/activity to challenge the children. Although, what is an acceptable risk to one person, may be completely the opposite of another. Bruce and Meggitt (2002) write that ‘outdoor space needs to be available most of the time’; They continue that, safety is the only consideration for keeping children in doors.
Children can feel safe in ‘risk taking’ environments and activities in many ways. Initially the adult to child ratio, with a high number of adults’ children can be supported and helped to achieve. Secondly by minimising, if possible, the risk aspect. This could be ensuring the activity is a positive and acceptable environment. Thirdly by giving the children all the opportunities available for physical risk taking, children need a stimulating and challenging environment. And finally, a well maintained balance between the child’s safety and the challenge of the activity. In an educational setting, an adult carer will go to the ‘risk area’ and carry out an assessment.
They will check the route to be taken, dangers in the area and also any area that poses extreme concern. An adult carer should also think about the child to adult ratio. A local nursery allows children to climb trees. Due to the child to adult ratio, the nursery feels that the level of risk posed can be curtailed by having by having the children supervised and supported through the activity by adults. The children are therefore enjoying the activity of risk taking, as well as feeling safe in knowing an adult is available to help at any time.
Another factor that the adult carer should be aware of is the idea of making a child’s environment completely hazard free. Therefore taking away any risk or danger. Walsh (1993) thought that children in an environment that is completely ‘safe’ could become bored and this could lead to self initiated risk taking that could be dangerous. Durberry (2001) felt that children who grow up in an ultra safe environment would ‘lack confidence in their own physical ability’. This would be due to the poor opportunities for the children to build and extend upon their exiting knowledge. He continued that children had to be both confident and competent physically in order to feel competent emotionally.
The ideals on risk taking vary from culture to culture. Although the main aim remains the same. The child needs to remain safe, but feel they are being challenged and stimulated. To minimise hazards there needs to be a high adult to child ratio. Children need opportunities to explore and do so independently. Over the last decade, the child’s freedom of choice has been limited. Adult carers are sometimes over anxious about letting the child experiment with risk taking. The procedures and guidelines that are in place give the adult carer a frame work on which to base their activities upon. The adult carer should exploit and become fluent in the procedures and guidelines in place. This in turn will provide groundwork for safe risk taking.
Smith, P., Cowie, H. & Blades, M. (2003) Understanding Children’s Development, London: Blackwell Publishing. Bruce, T. & Meggitt, C. (2002) Childcare & Education, London: Hodder & Stoughton. DfEE (2003) Early Years (Volume 23, Number 1), London: Taylor & Francis