A guest post by Shannon Keane, with the support of the team at YMCA Early Learning Centre Manurewa – Awhina Taiohi.

In 2016 YMCA Early Learning Centre Manurewa embarked on a journey to engage parents & children in a consultation process around risky play. This is their story…

Change was coming with health and safety policy changes in New Zealand.  This posed an opportunity for us to review our policies at an organisational and centre level. 

Change is good and we aimed to ensure the experiences provided in our risk taking environment were still challenging. But how to achieve this with so much risk of cotton balling children and  becoming helicopter teachers?

Teachers have released the fear.  By creating a strong ‘yes’ environment and working with children to learn how to make safe choices for themselves and others.

We get outdoors in rain, hail or shine, providing truth to the saying  “there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing”.  The children are learning what they need to keep themselves and others safe and healthy in different weather; we discuss, negotiate and plan together.

Finally our proudest achievement, our bush visits in Manurewa, our little secret! 

We are now frequently visiting our local bush. It’s a little secret place that our tamariki (children) have called “their bush”.  Every Tuesday you will find us there learning about how to be great leaders and extend our ideas around what it means to be a leader.  With leader-stick in hand we are discovering the joy of nature through playing games, problem solving, finding patterns in nature, hunting and gathering, drawing and writing about our experiences and truly connecting with everything available.

We have high hopes to send our tamariki (children) out into the big wide world with a sense of self-worth, pride, skills and knowledge about how to be active contributors in society through a stronger connection to nature. They are learning how  to become stewards of their land. 

Contributing citizens of their community

Three strategies that you could use to start to support the risk takers in your learning environment:

  1. Give children time and space to develop their own limits and boundaries.  After attending a ‘rewilding children’ workshop at MIT we discovered the wonder of the number 17.  Before any teacher engages with children taking risks, problem solving and negotiating, they count to 17 first and then engage if needed.  This strategy has been like magic in our environment, even though it is the hardest thing to do, we see the value of applying it when we observe children solving their own problems and developing lifelong skills they need later in life. Discussions with adults and peers provide children with the knowledge to apply into real life situations, keeping others safe and developing a sense of responsibility and leadership
  2. Celebrate the weather, what-ever the weather, whether you like it or not.  Watch the rain and find puddles to jump into.  Children will learn about the appropriate clothing they need to engage in all types of weather, it is lots of fun and we discover the independence to keep ourselves healthy rain, hail or shine.  Wind is the best too because it blows our hair everywhere!!
  3. This is a serious one.  It is the most important component to the success of a risk taking environment.  Review and develop robust hazard management policies, procedures and practises that are shared and developed with the whole learning community.  Get the children involved, encourage discussions with parents about what risk looks like in your learning environment and ask them for suggestions and solutions.  By doing this with whanau (family) they were able to develop an understanding around the learning that can occur through a positive risk taking environment for their tamariki (children).  

We had no idea how successful the process would be; in parent participation in discussions, getting everyone actively involved in developing our outdoor space and participating in our regular bush walks.

So imagine our surprise when we were actually invited to be one of the speakers on the world stage at the Children & Nature Network Conference to be held from 18-21 April in Vancouver.

To support the YMCA Early Learning Centre Manurewa in their journey to share their learning journey with a world stage at the ‘Children and Nature Network Conference’ , please visit their fundraising page.

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