I pride myself on the autonomy and agency that we give to children within our setting. It is certainly a far cry from the days when children were micro-managed. Perhaps I’m exaggerating a little there – but probably only a little. There was a time when we did so much to stifle children’s play. All those things aside though for now – as much as we afford children their risk taking nature…… there are times when my stomach sits in my throat. One of those just happened for me a couple of days ago.
I was on one of my “just happened to need to go out into the playground for some important reason” – so important I’ve no idea what it was, nor did I probably even then. Fact is – I love being out there. So I stayed a while and scoped out what was going on. Also a favourite pastime of mine. Lots of little groups of children and Educators adorned the yard. But two children in particular caught my attention.
Mr J. and Mr T. (no, not the wrestler!) were hanging out together on the big Bali chair. They had pulled over two long wooden planks and had secured them under the back of the chair. To their credit, I watched them carefully check the overhang at the back, tip and test the planks, do a “wobble test”, before seeming to concur that all was “safe” and ready for play.
I was nowhere near close enough to hear what was going on – but it very quickly became apparent, that they were “walking the plank”. Then off the end they would jump, spurred by one another, into the sea below. How there was not a higher level of protest, I’m not sure. Because I was soon to find out that the waters were infected with man-eating sharks.
The game started quite tamely, and it was a pleasure to sit back and watch the social interaction and sheer joy as their game unfolded. I had also been highly impressed at the “safety checking” and risk managing…… until……. my comfort zone was overtaken. Very quickly, the game escalated for these two boys – and carefully walking to the end of the plank and jumping off, was no longer satisfying. They began to go out together, stand on the end of the plank, and then jump enthusiastically up and down…… literally raising the back side of the chair off the ground! This is a big heavy chair – and so it was not such an easy feet to be moving it this way.
Here came my stomach in throat moment! And what happened next, is something that I really truly need to congratulate myself on. I resisted every urge I had to call out “NO!”, and every other urge I had to race over and stop the game. Instead, I very casually made my way over and stood beside the chair. I am the biggest advocate in our centre for letting children engage in risky play. So it was with a very measured idea that I took my path – mind you, the “measuring” happened with record speed.
Almost immediately that I reached the zone, I was warned of the danger – “Trisha, there sharks! Get on the boat! Quick!”. So up I climbed, relieved not to have been snapped up by huge jaws. And there I was – smack in place to facilitate the next flying jump. Perhaps even more terrified for my life on this boat I understood was about to start rocking! Mr J. said to me, “We walking the plank”.
“Aaaah.” I agreed. Then reached inside and chose the words that did not shut down the risk assessing these two had clearly done for themselves. And so I continued….. “I was watching you from over there. And I just wanted to tell you that I was a little bit worried that when I was seeing you jump on the plank, the chair was tipping right up.”
Puzzled looks went to one another and then came back at me, so I explained myself again, and told them what I saw. Mr J.’s face changed from puzzlement, to concern. “No jumping?” he asked me. So I gave it back to them, asking “What do you think?”. He then sidled along the plank very gingerly, being ever so careful, got to the end, sat down, and SLID into the ‘water’. “Like this?” he asked.
We continued to have a little more conversation, with me encouraging them to think about at what point, the risk became a danger. They had several goes at walking and jumping in – even adding a little bounce at the end of the plank. But the big jumping never returned. A space was reached where all was well with the world.
I feel so very liberated to think back on how this all panned out. But I also feel warm in my heart, that two little boys – at the age of three and a bit – were able to gain a little more skill and thought in their risk assessment. It is SO important to us in our setting, that we let children in on the risk. That they find their boundaries. When children are supported to take risk, and to take some responsibility for maintaining their own safety – they learn to move through our world with a level of independence and skill that will be required as they get older, and the risks have higher stakes. And while I intervened on this occasion, I know that is also our role as the adults in their lives. We have that place – and it’s an important one. Sometimes we don’t always get the balance right…… sometimes we step in too quickly…… sometimes we stand back for too long. This time, I am confident I got it pretty right. I’m growing as an adult in the lives of children. And I’m so grateful that they have patience with me while I do.