Risky Business: How do children manage risks?

We asked Esther Gray, our resident Ofsted expert, ‘How should we be supporting children to manage risks in our settings?’  Here is what she said…

Firstly – teach children to “Speak Out and Stay Safe”. It is abundantly clear that empowering every child to he heard is vital.  But, how can children manage risks if they don’t recognise the risk?

You have a paramount responsibility to keep children in a safe and secure environment. Safety is everyone’s responsibility. You all know the child who comes through the door next will be the one that finds the next risk. Identifying risks and taking action is vital. It is no good telling me there is a trip hazard, without telling me what you did immediately to make children safe, while I set about ordering a new carpet. Who ensures equipment is safe, suitable and constructed in line with manufacturers instructions?

Recent received wisdom is more about giving children challenge. Not only has this occurred in speeches from  Amanda Spielman recently but I also find it in Teachwire as follows:

 Managing risk in the physical environment is a fundamental part of a practitioner’s role. However, if the approach is overzealous, all physical and intellectual challenges may accidentally be removed.This can have unintended consequences: if all climbing equipment is removed, children will tend to meet their need to climb by using inappropriate equipment such as chairs.Children learn about weight, relative size, orientation and problem-solving by carrying planks, crates and wooden blocks by themselves.

What is a risk? A risk is something or someone in a child’s world that may cause them harm. Children are harmed by: falls, hazardous materials, poorly maintained premises and/or layout of an environment and people. People are, either young or old people. Most worrying is a risk that the child has not learned to manage.

Teach children about risks. Where can I run? What can I eat? What can’t I eat? What can I touch and what can’t I touch and why? What can I balance on? What can I climb on?  How do I manage tools safely?  In all activities there is a time to ask children the question — in bubble printing for example, “Should you suck or blow?” When going outdoors, what must they do when balancing on that log, what happens if I touch that stinging nettle? What is a stinging nettle?

Teach children to identify a trusted adult and what to do if they are worried. They must feel safe to tell a trusted adult and confident that they are being heard. While enrolled in helping school age children to SOSS (Speak Out and Stay Safe) I recognise how some aspects of this message can be adapted for younger children. NSPCC information on SOSS is found here.

Children are vulnerable when language is developing. They can use simple words and thumbs up and thumbs down signals to alert another person that what is happening is “not okay”.  When a child is in trouble for biting another child, you need to give them something else they can do, other than biting or hitting (which is NOT OKAY). Teach children to sign and say, “That’s not okay” to another child or to an adult.

Encourage parents to become involved in this. Parents will need to feel secure that their child is safe. If you call to say they have fallen their heart will jump into their mouth. There has to be a level of trust. So build the trust.  Take parents on a teaching/learning walk when introducing them to the nursery or child care environment. Share the learning to develop consistency at home and in the setting.

If you’re interested in incorporating Risky Play in your setting, then you might be interested in our new course about just that.  You can find details and book on it here.

About the author: Esther Gray

Esther Gray Early Years Consultant Ofsted

Esther is a renowned and respected expert in early years education and regulation in England. She qualified as NNEB and achieved a BTEC Level 6 in Investigative Practice, amongst others, while working for Ofsted.

For four decades she has honed and used her skills to support and advise providers of childcare and education. Until retirement from Ofsted in March 2017, Esther was focused upon the legal requirements, regulatory matters and compliance with the EYFS required by the Department for Education.

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