A natural concern for parents during their child’s early years is the safety of any given environment, especially outside of the home; however are these concerns leading to surroundings being ‘too safe’ and potentially having a detrimental effect on a child’s development? Early years settings should of course be able to provide parents with the utmost confidence that their children will be protected from harm whilst being able to learn, play and explore in a manner that best suits their development. This however must be balanced with a child’s understanding of the world around them, which includes developing the thinking skills needed to identify and assess risks.

In 2018, Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Speilman raised concerns over nurseries and early years settings becoming “overly risk-free’ environments”. She mentioned that “parents want to be sure that you can keep their child safe from harm. And of course, you must be able to assure them of that. But my concern is that in doing so, and through the best of intentions, we are creating overly risk-free environments”. Furthermore, she states that Ofsted expects settings “to take risk seriously and supervise young children properly. But we don’t expect you to take away the climbing frame in case someone falls or avoid journeys to the park for fear of crossing the road”.  This infers that Ofsted expect young children to have opportunities to explore the world around them freely, with practitioner supervision as opposed to unnecessary intervention.

At Bright Minds Daycare, we have the welfare and safety of our children at the very core of what we do on a daily basis. We do however agree with Ofsted’s views on the matter – children develop critical thinking skills while learning to assess risks for themselves with the support and guidance of highly skilled practitioners. It is important to provide children with the opportunity to explore risks in a safe and managed learning environment as these problem-solving skills form the foundation for new skills to be learned. It is also worth highlighting that a child’s cognitive development is enhanced by their exploration of the unknown which is best achieved through child-led, experiential learning.

Bright Minds Daycare use the Forest School and Scandinavian approach to learning to motivate, engage and inspire children through positive outdoor learning experiences. We allow children to use their imaginations to build bridges and dens from trees, cook food on a real fire outside and use hammers and nails to construct their own masterpieces! Our skilled practitioners are then able to ‘scaffold’ each child’s learning, building on their ideas and interests to encourage deeper and sustained shared thinking.

It could be argued that there is a ‘culture of fear’ that has developed over the past couple of decades concerning parents’ attitudes towards what is deemed ‘safe’ for their children – many of us will have either heard or told anecdotes about how things were back when they were children! It may also be argued that that the majority of adults in the UK have seen changes in the skillsets and often demeanour of children today compared to 20 years ago; surely social media can’t be the only thing to blame? If we look to the approaches of other countries such as in the Nordics, early years learning is focused on experiencing and understanding the world around them before traditional academia is introduced. Recent statistics show that by the age of 10 the majority of children from these countries are already more academically advanced compared to 10yr olds in the UK.  Children learn by trial and error and therefore if we try to remove all potential risks from their environment, they will inevitably lack the confidence to deal with and overcome unpredictable situations.

As a parent, it is difficult to know how to respond to seeing your child in a potentially risky position. The immediate reaction may be to ask them to be careful, tell them it’s too dangerous/too high/too fast or stop the child thinking for themselves. Instead of ‘Be careful’, try using these phrases…

  • Have you noticed those rocks are slippery?
  • Maybe if you slow down you will be safer
  • Can you hear the water running close by, what might that mean?
  • Can you feel the heat from the fire?

Encouraging children to take risks at home can be exciting and can really support your child’s confidence and deeper thinking skills. Next time you are at the park, why not encourage them to climb a little higher, knowing you’re there for support. Balance on those logs together, toast the marshmallows on the fire; you may just be surprised at what your child can handle.