In years gone by (the black and white days of Early Learning) there was a steady move towards a culture amongst some practitioners that tried to eliminate risk from play outdoors. This meant that activities that took place outdoors had to be on soft surfaces and using plastic fantastic toys and all this in the name of Health and Safety. However there has now be a cosmic shift in the opposite direction to allowing more natural play outdoors and supporting children in their adventurous play. Hallelujah!
Last year 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.
Now when you mention Health and Safety to some practitioners 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 this 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?
I say bin the cotton wool and let’s go out to play in the woods.