Educators in Britain, after decades spent in a collective effort to minimize risk, are now, cautiously, getting into the business of providing it.
Four years ago, for instance, teachers at the Richmond Avenue Primary and Nursery School looked critically around their campus and set about, as one of them put it, “bringing in risk.”
Out went the plastic playhouses and in came the dicey stuff: stacks of two-by-fours, crates and loose bricks. The schoolyard got a mud pit, a tire swing, log stumps and workbenches with hammers and saws.
“We thought, how can we bring that element of risk into your everyday environment?” said Leah Morris, who manages the early-years program at the school in Shoeburyness in southeast Britain. “We were looking at, OK, so we’ve got a sand pit, what can we add to the sand pit to make it more risky?”
Now, Morris says, “we have fires, we use knives, saws, different tools,” all used under adult supervision. Indoors, scissors abound, and so do sharp-edged tape dispensers (“they normally only cut themselves once,” she says).
Limited risks are increasingly cast by experts as an experience essential to childhood development, useful in building resilience and grit.
I suppose I am skeptical of this approach, as it may lead to harm and furthermore the benefits of risk have to arise more organically. It will in any case be interesting to see how the public digests these changes as they play out in the lives of children.