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Where educators should push boundaries to turn risks into rewards

Roald Dahl said it best; “The more risks you allow children to take, the better they learn to look after themselves.”

When working in childcare, we deal with the following questions surrounding the concept of risk every day.

How do we rate risk? Are we pro risk? Are we adverse to risk? Are we all about the ‘risk-benefit’ approach? What happens when someone in our team decides they are risk takers and are ready to jump in headfirst?

If you are someone that embraces risk benefits, then this article will be a happy reminder for you. If you are in a position of high responsibility and usually prefer to err on the side of caution, this could enlighten you.

Firstly, let’s look at what a ‘Risk Benefit Assessment’ is.

According to common intel, a Risk Benefit Assessment or Risk Benefit Analysis is a process that seeks to quantify determine the ratio between the risk of an action and its potential benefits.

National governing body, The Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA), has the best answer to this important question: Do today’s childcare environments encourage children to assess and take risks?

The National Quality Standard says centres should create environments that are inclusive, promote competence, independent exploration and learning through play (Standard 3.2).

It is important that both management and educators critically reflect on the potential benefits of taking risks for a child’s agency, learning and wellbeing.

Remembering of course, these risks must be appropriate to scaffold skills and development. Children must also be given the opportunity to assess risk for themselves and be encouraged to make decisions about what does and doesn’t constitute an ‘appropriate risk’.

Think back to when you were a child. Identify a moment where you experienced the intense, positive exhilaration of mastering a skill and the sense of achievement when the risk has passed – then aim to help others recreate this.

Children need to feel that same thrill of overcoming their fears and launching into the unknown to master a new skill or experience.

Children who have opportunities to effectively assess and manage risk at an early age will be better equipped to deal with risk as an adult.

Tim Gill, one of the UK’s leading thinkers on childhood development, believes in the importance of assessing what children are learning from their experiences. He opts for identifying risks, then weighing them against the benefits that could potentially ensue for a child’s development and learning.

Tim believes that most children are capable of assessing and managing risk. Evidence of this can be seen in their competence and confidence when attempting a risky activity.

Risky play is an invaluable part of childhood. Research shows that not only does it increase children’s physical and motor skills, but also teaches them where their own limits lie and how to overcome future risks.

However, the safety of children is an ever-increasing issue that some management, educators and centres are particularly anxious about.

This worry about children injuring themselves or others during risky play is preventing some children from having the opportunity to engage in such crucial activities.

Thus, it is important that management and educators provide children with an environment where they can engage in risky play that is as safe as necessary, rather than as safe as possible. This is an essential distinction.

Risky play should be available for all children regardless of age, ability, or gender. Educators should support and encourage children who are anxious, use positive language when accidents occur and modify activities to suit a variety of abilities. This ensures that all children can be involved in risky play to some extent.

What one child considers risky might not seem so risky for another child. Educators must be aware of this and allow children to learn what they are capable of and not feel pushed into doing something they are not sure of. The more that children are free to engage in risky play, the better they will be at managing risks, judging what they are capable of and keeping themselves safe.

The role of the educator is to provide a challenging yet supportive learning environment that will help all children become more motivated, curious, able and adventurous.

Children are competent, confident and capable learners who are able to make choices and decisions for themselves.

They are naturally curious and inquisitive. They want and need to find out how the world around them works. They learn by experience and when that experience is mastered, they need to find opportunities that will stimulate and challenge them further.

We should always be creating ways to help them achieve these important goals. Take the risk and the rewards will be worth it for everyone involved.

By Nicole Hicks, Early Years Specialist

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