Taking risks are part of everyday life. We do it without thinking and we have learnt from experience how to manage risks in our heads instinctively. We climbed trees as children and learnt very quickly that getting up does not always mean we can get down again. We also learnt the difference between strong branches and weak branches. Living and dead wood and the differences these cam make to a safe climbing experience. I don’t remember anyone explaining these things to me or learning about them in a classroom.
The same came from the bonfires my dad lit when I was young. We had massive bonfires, especially on Guy Fawkes night. These things towered over me. You didn’t need to be close to feel the heat! I was of course told to stand back, not touch and I have memories of being told that the ashes could still be hot hours later. But the learning that sticks with me most is standing by that fire and feeling the heat. Testing to see how close I could stand before it felt too hot. exploring the heat by turning my face side on and feeling the cold of the night on one cheek and the heat of the fire on the other. I remember poking the fire with a stick as it died down and seeing the hot embers under the ash. I remember feeding the fire with sticks and learning the effects this had on a fire. Again, these were not things I was told or taught.
In an age of “Risk assessment” “Safeguarding” and “Blame”, we have all become very quick to shelter our children from any Danger. This is of course not a bad thing. No one wants a child to get hurt. No one wants to put a child at risk. But some risks are worth taking! The risk of not taking them is far more harmful!
My children have grown up experiencing fire and the joy of sitting out in the evening with family, talking and feeling the heat. Feeding then fire and toasting marshmallows. They come from a line of fire worshipers! Mesmerized in the flickering light and crackling logs. They have occasionally touched the end of a hot stick. Momentarily feeling the burn and dropping it. Not hurting themselves but learning very quickly to remember which end of the stick you are poking the fire with. They have learnt that marshmallows burn and fall in to the fire if left too long over the flames. That smoke in the face is not nice and that you need to sit upwind to enjoy a fire!
This has all come from experiencing fire for themselves in a safe and supported environment, where they have been guided but allowed to experience the risk and assess them for themselves. They have not been sheltered from this danger and you know what?…… They are all the richer for it!
They have a healthy respect for the danger and the joy a fire brings.
The same comes for many of the things we find “risky”.
I was recently at a local nature reserve with the children and sat down with the youngest to settle her for a nap in the buggy. The older children (ranging between 4 and 13) all played around the pond we had stopped at. I had mentally assessed the dangers and noted that the banks, although slippy, were a gentle slope in to the water rather than a sharp drop. The area around the pond was wide enough for the children to maneuver safely and that I could reach them all quickly should there be any sort of accident.
“can we go round the pond please? Can we play in the trees over there, can we make boats on the water?” So many exciting questions!!
My response……. “Of course. Remember to take care and stay safe!”
I trust them all to listen to their instincts and set limits for themselves. They set their own challenges too!
They all considered the need to walk carefully near the waters edge. They all tested the edge of the water and nearly fell over on the slippy mud. This showed them there was a need to stand away from the wet mud. They all made boats with sticks and leaves and created a game of “Stick battle ships!”
After a time, another parent came to the pond. She held her children’s hands and anxiously reminded them over and over, not to get too close to the water. “You might fall in, you might slip, you could drown, step away, I told you to not get so close!!!!!”
Now I am not going to judge this lady. She clearly loves and cares for her daughters dearly. She was keeping them safe!
The children, who I suspect were about 6 and 9 years of age, were eager to get to the waters edge. To throw the odd stick in, to poke the water and watch the ripples.
Each time they were pulled back and mum was clearly feeling stressed with the whole situation. I don’t know her children. I do not have the mothers insight in to how well her children can manage their own risks. But as Mum reached her braking point and lead her children away from the pond, I could not help but feel sorry for them. All of them. Mum included. They had missed out on so much fun and learning. Mum had missed out on watching her children learn about the water and the creatures that lived there. They had not been able to get close enough to the waters edge to see the Deer footprints that were in the soft mud at the waters edge and enjoy a conversation about what made the foot print and why it might have visited the pond.
The mother had her own fears of the water and had seen danger everywhere. I am sure that she had, in just seconds, imagined a terrifying scene of her child falling in to the pond and being lost to the water, We all have these images. I have it walking down the road every time a lorry drives past. In my head it has mounted the curb and killed us all. But the risk of this is very low. I have to assess it. I would never leave the house if I let the fear control me. But realistically we can not all stay at home. Think of all the things we would never learn and experience if we did. So I acknowledged the fear and I give it the credit it is due. It is my mind being aware of our surroundings and assessing the risks. Then I let it go and continue on our walk whilst asking the children to walk closer to the wall and not so close to the road.
Whist my children ran, climbed and carefully explored the waters edge I was reminded of why some risks are worth taking! Acknowledge the risks, listen to your fears, but assess them and consider how risky it really is. Just as importantly, what will your children risk MISSING if they do not experience this.