By Austin Nikolich, Curriculum Director, Sacred Heart Preschool
Over the years Sacred Heart Preschool has been engaged in a deep dive into play as pedagogy. With the help of the Children at Play Network we held trainings focused on play frames, the play cycle and the developmental benefits of designing learning environments that hold play at the forefront of who we are, what we do, how we do it and why we do it. How does a pedagogical shift towards a focus on free play, especially in our outdoor spaces, change the role of the teacher? How does it change our image of the child? How does it change our approaches to learning?
The answer? Embrace and support “risk in play”. Becoming an International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program, and with the partnership of the Children at Play Network, we took a critical look at risk and how it supports our image of who we want our children to be and what we want them to be able to do. First, we had to understand and acknowledge that risk is not the same as hazard. Risk involves exploring new and challenging situations. It involves experimenting to figure out what might happen “if”. We recognized that our role as educators is to facilitate language to promote and encourage capacity and confidence building and problem-solving skills. In essence, learning how to identify and navigate risk is how children learn about their world and how it works. How better can you learn about gravity if not for climbing and jumping? How better can you learn about balance and stability if not for traversing a fallen log or row of stumps?
Risky play helps to develop children’s self-confidence, resilience, collaboration, and executive function skills (the skills required for divergent and critical thinking and impulse control). As educators, we analyzed and reflected on the idea of risk and asked ourselves “why do we wait to introduce risk to young people when they are old enough to drive?” Why wouldn’t we weave risk-assessment skills into everything we do so that it is simply a natural process for young children?”