I make it a point to rarely hold kid’s hands when they are maneuvering, climbing, jumping off or balancing on something. I almost will never pick a child up and put them somewhere they can’t get themselves. Not only do I think it’s unnecessary, it robs them of the opportunity for getting things done on their own. There is a lot of physical development, motor control and self-confidence to be gained for children in this process.
If a three year old wants me to help them get jump off a climber, I will rarely give them my hands but I will offer suggestion on how they can get down. If they want to climb down I’ll reassure them “I’ll stay here and won’t let you fall” and then try to help them think through each step of getting down. Unless they are too upset for some reason, I want them to do it for themselves as much as possible.
At the same time, I will never pressure a child into taking a risk that they are not ready for. As someone who was a very physically timid and cautious boy, it always feels good to help support kids take risks at their own level. I am realising I am going to get plenty of opportunities for this now that I’ve begged/weaseled my way into being part of our Reception’s Forest School program. Every Friday morning this term I get to go to a beautiful park with a handful of children and a few other adults and enjoy the woods. I love it. I wish I could do it all day, every day.
My favourite part is at the end of the session when they can finally just explore things how they see fit. Last week I went with two children under some branches and down a hill. We had to get over and down a few rocks, the boy was happy to do so but the girl wasn’t so sure and said she didn’t want to go down. She reached out for my hand and I wouldn’t give it. “You don’t have to go this way, but if you want to come with us, how about you watch how I get down the rocks and then you give it a go? I’ll stay right by to make sure you don’t fall. Is that alright?” She replied it was and I then went down and narrated where I put my feet. She then gave it a go and I think surprised herself at how easy it was for her.
On my first Forest School outing, there was a challenge to run down somewhat steep hill. Most of the kids went for it right away but there was another girl who was obviously scared and started to walk down slowly. She was pressured by another adult with an “oh come on!” and started to pick up the pace. The look on her face brought my back to my childhood and how much I hated to take even small risks. She ended up getting down the hill just fine but I could tell she was a little overwhelmed and scared from the experience.
Maybe we all need to be pushed out of our comfort zone from time to time but I didn’t like this interaction much at all. Why does she need to get down the hill a certain way? Why can’t she get down the hill how she sees fit? Maybe after a few tries she would have realised her capabilities and ran down on her own initiative.
Others might have pressured the first girl to get over the rocks in a similar way. Others might have held her hand or even carried her over the rocks to solve the problem. Instead I feel we have have to respect individual children’s agency and right to take risks or not, and in the way they see fit. What’s not a big deal to one person might be more of a challenge for another. Not everything about risky play involves huge physical acts. Risk is relative.