Monday, June 18, 2012

Risk Versus Safety

There seems to be a constant stream of vehement discussions on this very topic recently appearing on the Internet through various web sites, online media, social media and the blogosphere. One thing I've noticed in these discussions is the vast difference in opinions regarding the level of risk deemed appropriate for children during their play.
So my question to you is how much risk is acceptable in your children's lives? Whether you are talking about your own child or those you care for. So I will propose a few scenarios for you to consider for your child/ren to explore within.



Scenario 1: Real tools are made available for the children to use as they work with wood and other materials. These could include hand tools hammers. saws, drills, screwdrivers, spirit levels, brooms, rakes, watering cans, etc; or powered tools such as drills, saws, sewing machines, etc.
 
Scenario 2: The children are taken to the local bushland where there are trees with limbs low enough to enable climbing, large rocks and fallen trees that can be climbed on, access to a small stream, and a large quantity of loose sticks and stones.

Scenario 3: Rough and tumble play is encouraged where your child attends or where you work. Such play includes hero play that involves lots of physical contact, the use of sticks and other resources as guns, swords and other weapons, and jumping on equipment, climbing on or over furniture and crawling into small spaces.
Scenario 4: It's raining fairly heavily and chillier than usual. The children have minimal wet weather clothing, some have little or no warm, outer clothing and there are no umbrellas available. yet the teachers still want to take the children outside for a period of 15-30 minutes for outdoor play.

With all these scenarios there could be variables which you may want to take into consideration. Other than that, the decision is yours. Would you let your child be part of any of these experiences? As an educator, would you go along quietly with what is happening, encourage it or protest?

I would be very interested to see what people have to say so please be honest. I would also like to get responses beyond the audience of this blog so if you would like to share it in any space you have available and report the responses back here I would also be very grateful.

26 comments:

  1. For my own kids I'd say yes to all three scenarios. As a teacher and caregiver of other peoples kids I might say no to the last scenario since the kids may end up sitting in wet clothes for the remainder of the day. Safety would need to be discussed perhaps as brought up by the children. What to do when there are two or three kids in the tree and it's time to pass someone? How can you do that safely? How high can you climb? As high as you're comfortable? just some thoughts

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  2. It all depends a little bit on the age of the children, but I'll assume you're talking about 3 yrs up?

    1. Definitely in favour of this- all sharp or power tools to be used with prior intentional teaching and close supervision.

    2. Go for it. Close supervision needed near water of course, but I am strongly in favour of the experience of natural water courses. This sort of play is what children need to do to develop their risk assessment skills. Skilful intentional teaching will always improve safety outcomes.

    3. Out of context this can sound alarming, but in the context of a strong social teaching program I see no problem with any of this. A group with strong self-regulation skills who have contemplated cause and effect and made their own rules will not be running around poking each other in the eye with sticks. Some children will always get 'carried away' in superhero play due to their individual home circumstances and these children need to be treated as individual cases, rather than their behaviour causing rough and tumble play to be banned.

    4. This scenario needs better preparation. In cold wet weather all children need to have a change of clothes available plus adequate clothing to be warm and dry in the first place. I have no problem letting children experience the sensation of playing in the rain as long as they can get warm and dry afterwards. However most children would quickly tire of the conditions you describe and I wouldn't be getting them soaked with no Plan B re clothing. Nor would I force them outdoors in these conditions if they didn't want to go.

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  3. As an educator, I'd be comfortable with scenario one and two, and possibly scenario three with some modifications. (I'm not big on allowing children to climb/crawl on or over furniture, nor do I like the idea of using sticks as weapons.) As for scenario number four, I wouldn't take children out into the wet and cold without proper clothing for the weather. If the children had warm clothes and rain gear, I'd say go for it!

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  4. This type of play happens everyday at our Playcentre and is really encouraged.. We have carprentry bench set up every session - we have great ratios so supervision is no problem we have new borns to 5yr olds on our sessions. We encourage superhero play with the boys and help them make guns etc, we get out in the rain with the kids and play with them. We climb trees and encourage lots of exploring of nature. We have unsctructured play for kids 0-5yr olds and we have lots of happy, creative, imaginative, free spirited, confident, friednly and very clever kids. MOst of them stay here for all of their early childhood education and then go off to school and you often have the most settled, confident, responsible kids in the classroom - because they have been allowed to be kids in their early years. (From Auckland, New Zealand - www.playcentre.org.nz)

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  5. Defiantly encourage it. Kids these days don't get that experience any more. To climb and be KIDS. To get down and dirty. To learn how to use tools properly. I think its all great. The thing that makes centres from stopping doing these things and that they are afraid of the repercussions from the parents and what they would have to say about it. I remember when I was working and it was a cold winter day and the one parent didn't like the fact that we were outside in the afternoon. All kids rugged up. it wasn't raining or wet. Some parents just arn't as accepting to these things any more. I think what centres might have to do is explain to the parents why we are going to the park to climb the trees or why we are running around in the rain. It's the experience the thrill the excitement that they wouldn't "normally" get.

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  6. I would let me 4 y/o twin boys do all of those things. On the first one, I would want to be close by when they were using the tools for the 1st time, but i would let them do it as long as they were using them safely. The rest i would let them do with no reservations and i actually love watching them do those things. In the last one, i trust that if they were cold or uncomfortable they will do something about it - usually when they are having fun, they don't seem to care about cold, wet etc. I've tried to give them as much freedom as possible and i've noticed recently that they have started sizing up situations (like climbing down steep rocks, getting down from a tree) and trying to figure out the safest way to do things. I read someone where that it's better to let them take risks when they are younger than shelter them and have them start when they are teenagers.

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  7. For what it is worth, I am a stay at home mom, so my answer is that all of those scenarios described happen on a daily or weekly basis in my home under my supervision. I am totally ok with all scenarios, but I would be more apprehensive if some of those activities were done under someone else's supervision. Primarily because of student/teacher ratio. I have friends who are much less ok with risk, but from the time my littles could get about themselves we've taught them danger and to know their boundaries. So far so good. :o)

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  8. My answers would vary on whether I'm answering as a parent or a teacher. The whole concept of risk assessment for teachers and fear of conflict with parents/litigation has gone way too far, and I would love to see it come back to be more common sense and do what Tim Gill suggests, which is to do Risk-Benefit Assessment instead. However everyone's views and opinions do vary greatly so it is impossible to please every parent when you are a teacher. My personal views are that I am a little overprotective with my own kids, in that I don't want them getting sick or getting a stick in the eye etc, so I just try to monitor situations and intervene if getting too dangerous. As an early childhood teacher, I'm fine with scenario 1 in that we have a workbench with hammers, but I would feel uncomfortable with power tools. I would be ok with taking the children on scenario 2, as along as we have parents permission. I am not particularly comfortable with rough and tumble play. I try to let them go initially, but end up stopping play as I'm worried someone's going to get hurt. So my answer is no to scenario 3. In scenario 4, I would take them outside if they had the right clothing/clothing to change into, only because I wouldn't want them to catch a cold, because as a parent it makes life a lot harder when your child is sick. My answer is no to scenario 4, as it said not the right clothing.

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  9. #s 1 & 2 are good. In #3 I would only change the word "encourage" to "allow." I don't think we need to encourage rough play but there needs to be an understanding that it may be a necessary outlet for some children. There is a difference between fostering honest expression and teaching a behavior that may not otherwise be there. #4 I disagree with. The kids need weather appropriate clothing. If they happen to run outside for a short time, it's not a big deal. Coats and hammers are all tools that help us if used properly. On the other hand, I have known some kids who run hot and I don't force them to wear jackets.

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  10. When my eldest three children passed through a wonderful Montessori Nursery, they would all produce, aged 3, a sweet little wooden boat which they'd made using nails and hammer. They were all so proud of them, so much so we have kept them 10 years on. It's not something i would ever have considered doing with them and it embarrassed me that i had underestimated my kids abilities so much.

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  11. Yes to all of them Greg! I'm always aware of assessing potential hazards but am a big supporter of providing an environment of healthy risk for young children. I'm also a big believer in common sense. If some of our kids want to play in the rain, we help them with their raincoats and gumboots and send them out. If it is a raging thunderstorm - no. Sometimes as a team we look at something going on and ask each other "Is this okay?" or "Should we be stopping this?" - it is always okay to express your opinion and concerns.

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  12. Yes we do it all, except when in the rain we do use wet weather clothing. Children need to be seen as competent and capable of carrying out their own risk assessments in an environment that offers age appropriate challenges. Great post Greg. :)

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  13. Is this a risk assesment for the kids or for the parents. I have read the topics and all the scenarios. In my own opinion, raising kids is a very risky business especially here in the US. Back home (Philippines), everything is fun, as long I am home before the chicken perch. For some of us living in in the rural their is no such thing as natural environment, being in the suburb (Warwick, NY), my kids enjoy their childhood, almost equal to what I have experiences back home in Calaca, Batangas. (miss my hometown). To many to be said. Tools and guns, curiosity kills. With proper guidance and training we can start the males by educating them. Let them know what is the right tools for the job and what type of guns is the most effective for home defense. My kids are not allowed to bring their friends home with out letting us know first. 5 years ago my mother visited us from the city and found and AR-15 and hand guns in our dining table and she tried to put those somewhere else in the house, Jacobe (9 at that time) saw my mom and ask her... Mama, do you know how to handle guns, do you know if its loaded, you can ask me if you need help, but do not touch our guns in this house. Now that what I call it training and education.

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  14. I am a mum and would supervise and encourage my child to do all these things. I would work with her 1:1 with power tools although depends what a power tool is considered. A drill 1:3 ratio an eletric screwdriver wouldn't require such close supervision. A chain saw no way. It would also depend on the adults supervising the activity. My mother wouldn't know how to use equipment and that would be dangerous as she would be focusing on how to use it verses the children.
    Outside weather I would be encouraging at home and at a centre if changes of clothes are around. I am a mother who tries to get her daughter to have natural consequences so often she goes to kinder in shorts in winter (her choice ) but warmer clothes in her bag- so heavy.
    The superheroes play must have rules to ensure children play safely. On kinder duty a few weeks ago observed my daughters kinder teacher observe a hit(actually I saw it in corner of eye) get children to work out safe rules for example grab below waist only children who want to play and so on.
    The allowing the children out is a fantastic idea and would love it to happen more. I guess rules must be discussed and of course supervise all children.
    So sick of the line we can't do that its not safe. It involves hot water it involves a sharp instrument. The children are not learning respect. There is danger but the confidence my daughter gains from experiences she has are so important is well worth the bruses she has constantly and a broken arm once.
    I however know she has special needs and there are dangerous things she needs it spelt out and observed to ensure she remembers. For example hot water power tools...she will remember if told clearly. Hence my concern about supervision. (not jumping in but getting her to think about consequences).

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  15. As a parent yes to all except playing in the rain with no change of clothes. As a teacher I am unfortunately not allowed to go outside if it is less than 40 degrees or with falLing pricipitation. I would take my class out in all Kinds of weather if they had appropriate clothing, if I had my own way. I too have struggled with managing rough and rumble play but I am determined to start fresh next school year and see what kind of group I have.

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  16. This is a great post, Greg!!! I can honestly state that there was a time when none of these would be acceptable, but scenarios 1-3 are now options in my class. I truly wish we had more areas like in scenario 2 here in my area so we could experience that a bit more. I do think that additional prep would be needed for scenario 4. Thanks for sharing and helping folks understand the benefits of these "risky" scenarios!

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  17. I have and would support and encourage all children in my program to engage in as much play like this as possible. I have the full support of my families. All early childhood educators should be providing such experiences for children, especially urban children! Great post

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  18. I'm assuming that we are talking about children between the ages of 2 and 5.

    I've no problems with scenarios 2 and 3.

    Scenario 1 - no problems with most hand tools (adequate supervision is a given, of course), but with power tools and some hand tools I would do a risk/benefit analysis for each tool. It's only by assessing both the risks and the benefits that one can decide if the risk is acceptable.

    As an example - an electric screwdriver or driver drill has benefits that outweigh the risks as it allows children to do things that they wouldn't be able to do with a hand screwdriver, like tinkering and taking apart equipment where the components are too tight to be undone by hand. The potential for injury from such tools is very slight.

    Similarly, I feel that hot glue guns are fine - they open up all sorts of activities and construction methods that are impossible with other glues. The risks of burns are real but manageable, and the burns are very minor if you are using low temperature glue guns. Children will get burns but so do adults when they start using hot glue guns, and just like adults children quickly learn how to use the guns safely.

    But the risks of using a drop circular saw or a band saw outweigh the benefits (at least in my mind) since an accident could be so serious and the child could safely do exactly the same activity with a hand saw - it would just take a lot longer. One mistake and a child could lose their hand - that's not an acceptable risk as far as I'm concerned when the benefits of using the tool are just that it's quicker than a hand saw.

    Scenario 4 - if the children have a change of clothes then I would be OK with this SO LONG AS the children are choosing to go out in the rain and have the option of either staying inside or coming out of the rain when they want to.

    Getting wet and/or cold for a short time will not harm children; illness is caused by exposure to viruses and bacteria, not ambient temperature, and young children are quite capable of deciding for themselves when they are too cold - hypothermia is not an issue.

    But if this is being imposed on the children by the teacher and the children have no choice about whether they take part then it would be unacceptable in my mind. Children should always have a choice whether to take part in play activities, and if they don't want to go out in the rain that's their choice, not the teacher's.

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  19. Great discussion Greg and all. Got me thinking. Where else are you having this discussion Greg? So I can let people join in.

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    1. Georgie, I really would prefer for all comments to be made here so they are in one place, but if people absolutely want to add their say elsewhere they could do so on our facebook page. Just click on the link at the top right of the page.

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  20. Naomi Yalkowsky FosterJune 21, 2012 at 11:54 PM

    #1, #2, and #4 are 100% yes for me. Actually those are things that I seek out to find ways to provide to my class. #3 I limit (not prevent, just limit). Simply because with so many children in the room, this sort of play almost always end up 'spilling over' onto those children who are not involved in the game, and because I really dislike when the furniture actually gets broken.

    My biggest pet peeve, the thing triggering my bad negative attitude, is the increaasing number of things that the Licensing Branch of the Health Department is now telling us we aren't allowed to do or aren't allowed to give children access to. They are going overboard in protecting the children. So much so that they are preveting us from allowing children to do their own risk assessment, which in the long run is a very dangerous thing. We are damaging
    the children with safety.

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  21. Naomi Yalkowsky FosterJune 21, 2012 at 11:57 PM

    Oh, also with weather. There is no bad weather, only bad clothing. It rarely gets cold here, but parents worry and have strong feelings. So to appease the parents, we've had to make a policy that we stay inside if it is colder than 40F. On the other hand, there is real danger when it gets too hot. So we stay in when it is over 104F, except for swimming lessons. So, now we've been inside every after noon for 3 weeks. And will be until September.

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  22. Just a question to throw out based on everyone's experiences. I'm actually OK with all of the scenario's but feel 3 can be a tough one and clear boundaries may be needed...the reason being, this kind of play namely the weapons and superhero fighting...is hands down the one most parents complain about. It was a constant complaint this year from parents as they didn't want their children exposed, participating, engaging in play fights/ninja superhero action...how do you all handle it, as it seems from the responses that most have no problem with it. Just curious! Thanks!

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    1. Have posted your question on our facebook page Anonymous. It's more interactive there are you are likely to get more responses.

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  23. Just trolling through the blog and found this article about risk. Here in British Columbia in Canada it is a very hot topic. We are divided up into health regions and the health boards administer our licensing. It is very interesting that in the district that I live and work in the health board has little tolerance for risk and is always issuing edicts about what you can't do... might be quicker to say what we can do. While the next health region offers workshops on how to introduce risky play to the children and the "helicopter" parents that bring them to day care or pre-school.
    I currently work at a place that has even stricter rules about risk than the health board does and a partner that has a low tolerance for risk as well. I am constantly working to grow and stretch out boundaries so that the children can have fun, learn their boundaries and gain self-confidence and self-control. I have to say that I am getting lots of information and ideas from your blogs thanks

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    1. Well first of all Anonymous I wish you had used your name so I could have addressed you accordingly. Secondly, I don't regard what you are doing as trolling as you seem to be genuine in your search for ideas and information. Trolling smacks of more sinister reasons. Thirdly, I am amazed that such a forward thinking country as Canada could still allow situations today where regions (or even provinces) can have such vastly differing views and approaches in the way people should work with young children. The evidence spouting the benefits for encouraging risk is an ever growing mountain. Finally, I applaud your efforts in a quite bleak environment. Don't give up the fight. Perhaps we can some world leaders in the area of risky play, such as Claire Warden, to tour Canada and spark a rethink in having such a scattered and segmented administration of early years learning and care.

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