Monday, May 9, 2016

Risk. Finding the Balance.

Life is full of risk.

Early childhood programs have a responsibility to help prepare children for life.  Part of that responsibility is to provide opportunities for children to see risk, determine just how risky said risk is, and solve the problem of dealing with the risk (aka:  recognizing risk, assessing risk and managing risk)

Too many programs are shying away from this responsibility.
Too many parents are shying away from this responsibility as well.

The result:  
  • Children who don't have the "gut feeling".  
  • Children who get blind sided by risk, and don't win.
  • Children who get used to hearing an adult yell "STOP!! THAT'S DANGEROUS!  YOU CAN'T DO IT!"  When that adult isn't there, the child has no idea how to recognize risk as they have always depended on the yelling adult.
I'd like to share this moment-o-risk that just happened last week in my play school.  As  you look at the photos and read the captions, I encourage you to dissect all the IMPORTANT STUFF that the children in this situation are learning.  At the end, we will review.

Meet Bennett.  Bennett has had opportunities to practice using caution.  He knows how to slow his body when the gut feeling tells him too.  He is using our brand new water-weaving wall.  In order to pour water in that red funnel, Bennett had to solve a problem.  He had to get himself up higher.  This tire, was conveniently right there, and so, it is the obvious solution to his problem.

While standing on this tire, Bennett's body is learning a lot about balance and support.  Notice how he is bracing himself on the lattice?

Bennett is PROUD to have accomplished his self-chosen task with a technique he chose as well.

Meet Oliver.  Oliver is the middle child.  He and Bennett are solving a problem.  Oliver would like to pour water in another tube on the water-weaving wall.  That tube, however, does not have a tire to stand on near by.  SO, these boys are using some teamwork to accomplish this task.

The boys invited me in to their play by asking me to help them stack the tires (ASKING FOR WHAT WE NEED).  The stacked tires provides some risk.  See how Oliver is standing?  His gut feeling is telling him to MOVE SLOWLY in order to maintain his balance.  See Zoey?  She is helping to support the tire tower for her friend.

As Oliver is standing on the tire, I simply said "Oliver?  Do you feel safe?"  His reply?  "No".  See Bennett?  He added to our conversation with this awesome, nugget of knowledge:  "Don't worry, Oliver.  I'm coming to help.  I'll stand over here and balance the tire for you."

After Bennett got into position, I simply said "Oliver?  Do you feel safe now?"  His response:  "YES!  Yes I do!"

After Oliver emptied his bucket of water he said "Denita?  Do you remember the ladder we used last year when we had the other water wall?  Can we use that again?"  My response "Absolutely!"

Let's review all the opportunities that occurred during this beautiful, child-led moment at my play school:

Recognize Risk:
Standing on one tire provided an opportunity for Bennett's gut feeling to kick in.  It told him it was time to kick into "cautious mode"
Risk Assessment:
Bennett's gut feeling told him it was time to kick into "cautious mode" but this was a risk he was able to manage.
Risk Management:
Bennett listened to his gut feeling, recalled all the other times he has had to manage risk and knew that he needed to SLOW HIS BODY down in order to take the time to be cautious.
Problem Solving:
Oliver needed to get his body up higher.  After looking around at the supplies near by, he proceeded to move a tire to where he needed it.
Seeing that tires were a very good solution to the problem of getting up higher, Bennett ran over and moved another tire with Oliver.
Recognize Risk:
The moment Oliver got up on the tire tower, he knew this was risky.  His gut feeling kicked in, just as it was developed to do.  Oliver has had previous opportunities to have that feeling, enough to recognize that that feeling means USE CAUTION.
Risk Assessment:
This is where my job as teacher came in to play, by simply offering one question to help Oliver assess this moment of risk:  "Do you feel safe?"
Risk Management/Applying Previously Learned Knowledge to a New Situation:
Enter in Bennett to offer the help that Oliver needed in order to manage this moment of risk.  Bennett took information he has learned through previous experiences with balance, and balanced the tires so Oliver could finish his self-chosen task more safely.
Asking for What We Need:
After working very hard in order to dump some water down a tube, Oliver recalled that there was an easier solution, and one that held a lot less risk.  He asked for the ladder that he remembered using last fall.

I encourage you all to do what Bennett did for his pal, Oliver; he helped him find balance.  You need to find a way to balance risky opportunities while also meeting each child where they are at.   The amount of risk needs to match the amount of trust... with a slight push of those boundaries.

I leave you with this bit of wisdom and a whole lot to ponder:
"At my school, we no longer call it risky play.  We call it safety play, because when provided with risky opportunities, children are learning how to be safe." -Teacher Tom