A little bit about why we engage in lots of positive risk taking,
for those who are interested… Playing adventurously motivates children to develop persistence and an enjoyment rather than fear of challenge and extending and exploring boundaries. A willingness to take risks is an important characteristic of an effective learner. The Early Years Foundation Stage guidance states that an effective learner is willing ‘to have a go’ through initiating activities and seeking challenge, showing a ‘can-do’ attitude, taking a risk, engaging in new experiences, and learning by trial and error. When adults look anxious or repeatedly say to children ‘mind out’, ‘be careful’, ‘don’t do that’, ‘come down or you’ll fall’, there is a danger that they undermine this important disposition to learn by communicating their own anxiety. There is evidence that risk and challenge in a supportive environment is positively linked with emotional well-being, resilience and mental health and that small mistakes and minor accidents can offer some protection against the negative effects of future failure. Managing a small amount of fear and uncertainty, such as balancing along a wobbly plank or rolling fast down a slope and holding your nerve when feeling on the edge of control, is important to emotional well-being. Such play develops children’s resilience and help them to cope physically and emotionally with unexpected events. Vigorous almost out of control play, such as swinging, hanging, rolling or romping – where the normal body position is altered – is crucial for developing children’s sense of balance and sense of their own body in space. Research on children’s neuro-motor skills in primary schools shows that children with immature motor skills do not perform as well on educational measures at eight years old. However, despite an inbuilt sense of danger, children who lack experience can sometimes take risks that are inappropriate, which border on recklessness or which put themselves or others at risk of serious injury. As in many areas of learning, children need the support of experienced others who can help them recognize and assess risk for themselves, teach safe ways of doing things and encourage a ‘can-do’ attitude and a positive disposition to adventurous play. Teaching skills such as testing the strength of a branch before climbing or using a stick to measure the depth of water in a stream before paddling helps children to feel confident in managing risky situations. At Young Friends Nursery we fully support this and as such our children are very effective and confident learners and explorers.
Real and Natural Resources
The Reggio Emilia approach, like Montessori, was developed in Italy by a group of parents and Loris Malaguzzi and used in preschools and schools. Their belief was that the environment was a third teacher and children use “a hundred languages” to express their thoughts and creativity, which should be diligently documented. A Reggio environment uses every crevice of its space as an opportunity for learning so it is not uncommon for Reggio environments to have a great deal of natural light, authentic art and creative materials, and freedom of movement.
Another inspiring aspect of the Reggio Emilia approach is provocations. Provocations are essentially invitations to play. Using children’s interests, resources are displayed and arranged in a way that promotes inquiry and investigation. For instance, a mortar and pestle may be placed in the middle of a table surrounded by a well-arranged assortment of herbs, flowers, and playdough. How children connect their own ideas and choose to use the resources is entirely intrinsic. The role of the adult is solely to document via notes/observation and provide support, if necessary.
Keen to incorporate this approach into our environments, we created three Reggio Emilia focus tables for each group resourced with loose, natural materials such as glass jars, pinecones and leaves, corks, wood/bark pieces, oil pastels, etc. In the preschool, their Reggio table includes a pallet shelf with access to all the resources. The area is thoughtfully set up with children’s current interests in mind and children are also invited to set the tables up themselves as they see fit.
These areas have been such a success with the children that we’re now moving to extend this approach into the rest of our environment also as we begin to phase out our plastic toys and bring in more open-ended resources.
“Our task, regarding creativity, is to help children climb their own mountains, as high as possible.” Loris Malaguzzi
At Young Friends Nursery and Nature School we choose to provide real and natural resources instead of plastic ones. There are many reasons why this method is beneficial to children desire to investigate and imitate. The minute we replaced our plastic tea sets with the real versions role play became far deeper and richer. They were actually imitating the adults around them because these are the real things they use. Natural resources flood not only our Reggio Emilia areas but also our maths, writing and construction areas. For example, we have made our own wooden blocks of all shapes and sized to children can make their own imaginative cityscapes. They count and sort in a much more intricate and child led manner with driftwood, shells, pine-cones and much much more. The children decide their tasks and how complicated or simple to make them. This, we find, is far more educational and mind-enhancing than colour and shape sorting with their plastic counterparts where the task is already dictated.