Enchanted Forest Nursery pride ourselves on keeping informed of changes in national guidance and implementing these to provide the best possible outcomes for the children in our care. In March 2016, the Care Inspectorate published the document ‘My World Outdoors’, guidance to share good practice in how early years services can provide play and learning outdoors. Alongside this the Care Inspectorate have also published a statement on a ‘Positive Approach to Risk in Play’, supporting care service providers to take a positive approach to risk in order to achieve the best outcomes for children. This means moving away from a traditional deficit model that takes a risk-averse approach, which can unnecessarily restrict children’s experiences to a more holistic risk-benefit model.
We have to admit the push for ‘risky play’ for our children in our nurseries has brought a sense of uneasiness for many members of our team who have for as long as we can remember been conducting robust and highly detailed risk assessments for all activities and at times, we admit, wrapping our children up in cotton wool both indoors and outdoors. It goes without saying that such a move requires a change in mindset for not only our team members but we are sure for our parents too.
To inform and support the change in our thinking as well as practice, members of our management and staff from each of ournurseries attended ‘Risk It’ Training from Mindstretchers from the trainer Jenny McAllister MBE on Saturday 18th June 2016. The training was a balance of theory and practice and focussed on moving away from risk assessment to a benefit risk assessment which thinks about the children needs (benefits) before the risks. One of the main learning points included the approach that children can self-assess risk and there are huge benefits of children being risk assessors which include:
1. Strong stakeholders in their own development
2. Confidence and competence
3. Independence and responsibility for one’s own actions
4. Self esteem and self belief
5. Coping mechnaisms
6. Problem solving capabilities and transferable skills
7. Respect for danger, hazards and experimentation
To move forward with this approach there are 3 vital questions we will use when children are risk assessing:
As part of the course we spent time in the forest beside our Erskine nursery participating in ‘risky play’ experiences through the eyes of a child. We developed skills in how we can support children to join in confidently in potentially hazardous activities of den making, whittling sticks, making fires, using real tools and jumping from heights. Learning also included discussing indoor experiences too and that it is okay to allow a child to walk up a slide, more than four children can go on a climbing frame and in the sand/water area, children can use real knives in the preparation of snack and to stop uttering the words ‘be careful.’
Armed with all this information we have enthusiastically returned to our nurseries to adopt a ‘risky play’ approach. This has included children jumping from heights, whittling using potato peelers, enhanced trips to the forest to climb trees and melting marshmallows using a very small fire. The biggest change and challenge for us has been providing risk play outdoors and stepping back to allow the children to self-assess risk. We have stood with our heart in our mouth when for example our children confidently jumped from crates at height but we immediately became reassured and more at ease by the children who wanted to join in the experiences but asked for our help to do so (showing us that children are confident in self-assessing their own risk). We are delighted to report that most children after a number of attempts confidently jumped from the height themselves without our support. The key message is to encourage children to self-assess their own risk, to have an adult close at hand and to use our professional judgement to support, nurture and challenge the children in our care.
We look forward to you joining us on our journey with the move towards ‘risk play’ and as we do so we ask you to honestly answer the question “How many times in a day do you utter the words ‘be careful’ to your child?”.
Lisa McGarry, Early Learning Manager for Enchanted Forest commented “For ten years, our staff have undertaken robust risk assessment regularly, as this was the culture encouraged by our regulators. This has been an enlightening period for our staff team and whilst we understand we cannot change mindsets overnight, we will be aiming to implement small changes within each of our nurseries to enable our children to access more risk-based play opportunities. We will endeavour to keep our families updated on our progress and we know our children will be in full voice telling everyone about their new opportunities which they are already loving.”