The emergency exit to outdoor learning...
We assess on a situational basis. Using a length of rope in a construction is fine, stretching it across the playground is not! We use common sense and pretty much pretend that H and S doesn't exist. We do safety checks on everything and monitor all the materials on a daily basis. Safe enough sounds perfect. And I've heard those Scottish Summers are HOT!!
I always tell the adults with whom I work that our most effective safety tools are our own eyes, hands, and judgment. Black and white rules are about liability, not education. Knives, hammers, ropes, etc. are common tools, found in every home. Our job isn't to avoid these things, but to TEACH children how to use them safely. I've been teaching 3-5-year-olds how to handle tools this year and last week I sent 11 children off into the world who can hammer nails, saw wood, and use hot glue guns. This summer I'm going to be putting these things into the hands of children as young as 2-year-olds. They are going to get hurt (like we all do when learning new things, no matter what our age) but they will learn how to use these tools so that they don't get hurt again. To my mind, this is the surest way to keep children safe.Children with experience can do a lot of their own risk assessment.
Oh my, they'd close down our preschool (especially with the kids' recent obsession with string and rope)!And what Tom said.We are constantly evaluating and asking ourselves "should we be worried about this?" So many valuable learning opportunities would be lost through over vigiliance. I want to help to build resiliant, competent little human beings who have a positive assessment of their own abilities and I don't think this can be achieved if we remove all risk.I recently read that natural playgrounds aren't just about adding natural elements - they are about adding elements of risk as well. I've been thinking of this a lot lately.
Good grief! I get annoyed when my son comes home from school too clean - its the sign of a boring day!
Way over here the tyres are a haven for snakes, but they're still in the garden. The centre I work in is close to the bush that snakes, spiders, lizards and scorpions are daily visitors. Yet the authorities on their last visit were concerned that the easels were too dirty with paint and the crash mat had perished corners. Every day I fight for the children's right to go outside. "It's too hot" How will children learn to pace themselves in 38 degrees? "It's too cold" Can 14 degrees kill you? "It's too wet" It's only water. Will eating possum poo really make them sick? They'll spit it out!Obviously we know the risks and assess them daily but I'm not so sure that 'common sense' is as prevalent as you think either.I trust that children will test and find their own limits and that they're much better at assessing the risks than a government authority.The contradictions and 'dangers' are endless but how do we build competent risk takers without them. Wasn't the best fun we ever had the stuff we knew had an edge of danger?And painting the tyres white stops them getting too hot....and makes it easier to spot the snakes.
Hi EveryoneBig thanks for the international opinion! I still wonder why Britain, where the number of dangerous plant and animal species are negligible, has the most rigorous interpretation of H&S than anywhere else in Europe...yet it's the same laws!When I visited Sweden, the staff who worked in outdoor pre-schools were baffled by our British obsession with assessing risk and encouraging children to do the same. Common sense seemed much more prevalent.Anyone ever heard a woodland being described as a high risk environment?
Hi EveryoneI have to flag up Teacher Tom's super post about H&S matters. Have a look http://teachertomsblog.blogspot.com/2010/05/just-try-to-stop-us.html
Like "Little", we are aware that we can get creepy crawlies like spiders under the rims of our tyres, but we paint them with white paint inside to deter them.
Clearly the people making these health and safety decisions don't work with children and it sounds like they don't remember what childhood was like either. How will our children learn to make good decisions, assess risk and learn right from wrong if we wrap them up in cotton wool! The greatest gift we can give our children is resilience and the only way we can do that is to give them room to fail, get hurt, experience disappointment, make their own decisions and learn all about cause and effect. Children will never learn what is safe or not until they have the opportunity to experience the risks.Donna :) :)
Folks in the U.S. are pretty crazy about health & safety concerns, too. I'm with Gwynneth on this one -- if my kid comes home from school too clean I tell him he didn't play enough! As a mom, I teach common sense & safety first to my kids, then let them learn by doing. It's much more effective than telling them what not to do!
Little - here in Sweden 14 degrees is considered to be a ”nice” spring or fall day…: D The only time we don’t go out to play for long is when it comes down to -20 or lower!Juliet - you actually don’t have to be working in an outdoor pre-school to be baffled. I work at a “regular” preschool in Sweden I’m still finding all your risk assessment unbelievable. Granted we still spend at least a few hours outside every day even though we are a “regular” preschool.
Hello MalinThanks so much for your comments. I'm pleased you are baffled too - the reason I specifically mentioned outdoor pre-school staff was because of an evening I spend in a seminar with them where the matter was discussed.I'm pleased you pointed out that regular pre-schools in Sweden spend lots of time outside too. In fact there was one instance where I was in a wood with an I Ur och Skur pre-school and another one, and I couldn't tell the difference! There is definitely a more healthy culture of common sense in Sweden.
Thank you Juliet! Like I wrote in another blog the other day (I’ve been reading several lately looking for new ideas…) I think we all have very different conditions to start out with depending on country and culture, but that we all have our pros and cons. And that we all have things lo learn from one other. For me as a teacher I know I bring parts of my parent’s upbringing and my schooling with me every day when I work. In other words, my inherited culture which I pass on to the children I work with. My father always used to say that it’s easier to stich a cut that’s been made with a sharp knife than a blunt one, when asked why he let my sister and I use real tools when we were kids. What he meant was that if you always trying to protect someone from something that MIGHT happen they will end up hurting themselves because they’ve never had the chance to try on their own in a controlled situation. He believed my sister and I was capable of handling the tools and therefor showed us how to do it and then trusted us to use them. And we did! And I still have all my fingers left...And that’s something a take with me every day, the belief in children’s capability and competence, and the importance of introduction. If a child is introduced to an activity, either by an adult or another child, and then trusted to try it without someone hovering over them controlling I think the child’s confidence will grow. I’m not saying the adults should turn their backs and let the children run free, I’m just saying that I believe in staying back and letting the children try for themselves first. And that all adults recognize that sometimes the children have better ways of doing things than we have!
Thank you Malin for taking the time to add such a thoughtful contribution. If you haven't had a look, then sift through Teacher Tom's blog - there's a lot of creative ideas and he also understands the need for children to learn experientially about the risks involved in tool use and more. I'd also recommend looking at Tim Gill's blog, Rethinking Childhood. You won't get practical ideas but he has some really informative posts and is receptive to comments :)
Hi MalinIf you are on Facebook, feel free to visit the Creative STAR page or my own profile - sometimes it's good to know who's out there for support, ideas and advice - I get the feeling you've as much to offer as to take!
We have a motto at our school: "As safe as necessary...not as safe as possible."Children need to experience some risk in order to develop self-esteem, motor skills, and confidence. A lack of any of this can potentially cause more harm when the child is exposed to risk. Thanks for the post!
I can understand that SOME people might think that bieng blind folded and playing with rope is unsafe, but banning kids from digging incase they get dirt under their fingernails?!!Has the world gone mad? The kids aren't going to DIE from dirty fingernails!!!
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