Matt works as an Early Years Teacher at Charlton Nursery, based in a village location on the outskirts of Bristol. He has many years of teaching experience and joined Charlton Nursery over a year ago. It is clear that Matt really enjoys working within Early Years and he acknowledges that he feels that his role is now ‘less about the data and more about the children. You’re setting them up for their firsts in education and that’s what is so important, especially if you can get them to enjoy school and to have that element of “well I’m going to give it a go no matter what”. I think that’s what is important for those children’. This ethos relates well to Matt’s passion and enthusiasm for risky play which fosters a ‘can do’ attitude in children.
Matt’s interest in risky play began when he first started teaching and had attended physical education training session and the tutor explained the benefits of not having crash mats below climbing apparatus ‘the reason behind this was that if you put those mats down it creates a false sense of security for the children they then feel that they can jump off, so you are potentially creating more risk by putting the mats down to soften their fall. I could see that made a lot of sense. So, it’s handing over the risk to those children, saying “this is what could happen, how are you going to deal with it?”, this allowed the children to really think about what the risk is and to keep fully focused on the task, so it becomes about problem solving and managing their own risk. It made me realise there is only so much we can do for the children and that they have to take risk into their own hands’. Matt describes the importance of talking to the children and that by explaining the potential risks, children are able to ‘assess it themselves and adapt their behaviour and the way they address the risk of certain tasks’. By taking a step back and observing the children, adults are giving the children opportunities to think critically and problem solve, enabling them to assess their own risk and adjust it to an extent where they feel comfortable.
The children are obviously reaping the benefits of risky play and Matt explains that it’s not limited to just outdoor play but that ‘by having that “having a go” attitude it feeds into not just outdoor learning but it’s feeding into inside learning too, so faced with a hurdle they’re not sure about, instead of thinking “I can’t do that”, they’re more willing to have a go at things and that’s great to see’.
As part of the nursery’s Bristol Standard journey, they have reflected on the development of risky play provision to the setting ‘from the introduction of new balancing equipment, to using real tools for woodwork’. It’s clear that this development has been such a positive and beneficial experience for the children ‘children are encouraged to assess and manage their own risk taking which in turn has seen a decline in accidents throughout the nursery’.
Matt explains that the key to safe risky play is to empower children and foster a can-do attitude in children, not by doing things for them but by explaining how to do it and let them try and to discover for themselves. With regards to children climbing Matt describes how he supports children to do this in a way that is challenging without being dangerous ‘If you want to go higher, then ok, but I am not going to (physically) help you, I will explain to you how to do it and then you can go for it and if you get stuck I will explain to you how to navigate down, but I am not going to do it for you’. Matt does explicate this statement by adding ‘I would never let the children do something that I wouldn’t let my own children do. As a practitioner I have to look at the parent point of view’. By adopting this approach children can set their own limits and take control, manage, and assess their own risk and ultimately develop into resilient, empowered and confident learners.
The children at Charlton Nursery can experience a variety of risky play opportunities from climbing and jumping to using real tools, such as hammers and nails. Perhaps an unexpected benefit of the introduction of risky play has been the collaboration and support between children and how they are willing to help each other out. Matt provides an example of how when a child got stuck whilst climbing and called for help he responded to the child by asking what they should do to solve the situation ‘then we had other more confident children coming round, saying “well if you put your foot here and your hand up here” so they are starting to help each other as well to negotiate the risks or the obstacles that they face. This is all coming through risky play and it’s lovely to see’.
Matt acknowledges that some practitioners may not feel confident introducing risky play into their settings ‘I wouldn’t expect other practitioners or colleagues to be like me if they don’t feel comfortable because it’s not fair on them. I would encourage others, watch me, sit back and then hopefully when the children are out and jumping from something a bit higher than you would feel comfortable with, then just let it go and see what happens and build up your confidence from there’.
The nursery has a good relationship with the parents of the children who attend and feel that they support new initiatives, such as the introduction of risky play. Matt feels that it has provided parents with the opportunity to reflect on their own childhoods, maybe of climbing trees and being adventurous and then to think that it’s ok to able to provide these opportunities for their own children. If any reassurance were needed the reduction in accidents at the nursery is testament to the safety of risky play.
Matt is such a great advocate for risky play, and it’s clear that the children at the nursery are really benefitting in so many ways from the introduction of this to their nursery. Matt describes how ‘children are managing their own risks; they’re helping and looking after each other. They’re willing to have a go, not just at risky activities, but at everything. It builds up their gross and fine motor skills, it has so many benefits!’
It’s clear that the introduction of risky play to the nursery has been a huge success and Matt would encourage others to do the same, his top tips would be to ‘let the children just have a go. Let them surprise you because they will. Don’t be afraid of what might happen, because if you show them the right way to hold a knife or a hammer they will learn and they will be careful. I don’t want children to think that “actually I’m not sure if I can do that” but to think “I’m going to give this a go but if I can’t do it I’ve got someone to help me” by having that support they then learn to assist others and then it becomes a cultural way of helping and supporting each other, not just sitting back and watching people struggle and fail, we all want them to succeed as much as possible. But the one thing I have noticed is that the children will surprise you, they always do!’.