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Taking a chance on risky play – part two

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We introduced you to Linda’s family day care (FDC) and some ideas on risky play with an Amplify article featuring her ‘River Kindy’. If you missed it, catch up here. Last week we began a new piece from Linda, sharing the thought processes and experiences that led to her adoption of such a strong nature play philosophy. If you haven’t read part one yet, you can find it here. You’ll find a number of related articles, too, at the end of this post.

This week, the story continues as Linda looks at how her understanding of early childhood changed as she learned more about risky play and trusting her own instincts. She explores the concept of Environmental Satisfaction for indoor environments as well as outside, and describes her process for getting families on board with a nature based approach – leading to the birth of River Kindy.

Early childhood autonomy

As I developed confidence in my philosophy, it seemed to me that early childhood experiences and education meant the children have choices.

The children have the right to make decisions about how and where they play and work and what that looks like.

They can choose to take or to avoid risks, which this gives them autonomy over their bodies and minds.

However, to have that autonomy as young children they also need secure attachment to a trusted adult. They need to bond with me as a secondary carer – which is how I see the role of early childhood practitioners when a child is in our setting.

Secure attachment

We need that secure attachment for a number of reasons.

Firstly the child must believe I will always be there for them as an anchor as they begin their exploration into risky play.

Questions must be answered in their minds – whether or not they are ever consciously voiced:

  • Will Linda be consistent?
  • Will she believe in me?
  • Does she trust me?

Children must know their answers before we can step out into the risky environment. We can only get to the answers by building a relationship, which requires time and patience.

How much time? It’s different for each child, each group, and even for each situation. Any new child may present their needs for security and trust in different ways and it’s up to me to figure that out and deliver it. I have found that quite often the child’s play will give me clues as long as I am open to seeing them.

Environmental satisfaction

As I write about the individual needs for building trust, I’m thinking of a particular example with one child who forced me to really look closely at how the environment I was offering her affected our ability to form a relationship.

This young girl was really quite unsettled in care. Each day she was with me she would be noisy, active and always moving.

Up until that point my indoor environment had been quiet, focused and static. It was a clear disconnect with the way this child reacted.

I did some research and discovered the concept of Environmental Satisfaction. I came to understand that music was the key to this particular child finding ways to be calm and soothed. As soon as I made some minor, musical, tweaks to my indoor environment, she and I became close and started to communicate her way. We were able to build trust, to answer her needs for security, and now there is nothing we can’t do or try together.

Environment is so very important indoors too, not just outside.

Parental trust

Having the the children’s parents and other primary caregivers onboard with what I do is very important – vital, in fact.

I can’t do what I do with their children without their families’ support. After all I am being entrusted with their child. The most precious thing in their world.

We develop an open trusting relationship as time goes on. I talk at length to parents at the interview stage and I am very open and honest about the things we do. I can’t work with a parent who doesn’t totally believe in their children taking risks, although I’ve had parents who were initially unfamiliar with the concepts but were willing to take that leap of faith with me.

They become aware of their own growing trust over time.

As one parent said to me, ‘I sometimes find it hard to watch him do the things he does with you, like jumping off things, I know though that you make sure he is safe and that as a result he learns about how to keep himself safe‘.

The parents, children and I all grow together in this environment and the outcome is resilient, confident, body-aware children.

Resilience

Resilience is an interesting word. It is the capacity to recover from difficulties or challenges and, I believe, one of the most important skills for children to develop. In life all of us need to be able to pick ourselves up from a moment or period where things haven’t gone as we hoped or planned.

In my service resilience is developed on an experiential level. A child experiences this: today I can’t climb that branch, but maybe tomorrow, if I keep trying, I will.

Self-belief builds resilience. As educator and child, we will work together  to achieve new goals, or if the child prefers to work alone, I can drop helpful skills into conversations with them to help teach what they need indirectly. We all take pride in the things we feel we taught ourselves. A good teacher enables this, I feel.

River Kindy

River Kindy took my beliefs and passion to the next level.

With trust, philosophy, secure attachment, resilience and the belief that the children were developing an understanding for risky play developing we headed off to the river.

We learned about what to do if we saw a snake or another creature that might need caution.

We learned about walking in the bush with safety.

We learned there were edible, inedible and toxic plants.

We learned about the seasons and how the world changes with the seasons.

We learned about looking after the environment and the impact we as humans have on the world.

The children showed their warrior side by being amazing nature advocates and we all experienced the amazing ways that nature teaches us about our environment and ourselves. Nature teaches in the best possible ways for each child to learn.

The children learn about being themselves and how to belong in many different ways, and so they become strong, resilient and vocal.

Related reading

Part one of this story

Lighting a fire. The risk at play debate

Belonging to the wider world: excursions by bus and train to the city and more

Does ‘safe’ bush kinder lose meaning?

No way will a snow day stop the play

A bush yarn nature program reduces anxiety for both children and educators

 

Linda Tandy

Hi! I'm Linda Tandy and I live in Bega NSW. I have been working in Family Day Care for around 15 years and the last five years in Nature Based Family Day Care. This is where I found my love. My primary interest is children being given the opportunity to have a joyous and adventurous childhood where they are free to direct and guide their own path. To see themselves as capable and valuable individuals that hopefully become vibrant and confident adults. Nature Based Family Day Care makes sense to me. Traditional Family Day Care is a great model for Early Childhood but Nature Based Care makes it even better. Six or so years ago I found myself very disillusioned in my role and felt it was either time for me to move on or find a different way to run my Family Day Care Service. I wasn’t happy with the lack of authentic opportunities given to the children or the fact they could not drive their own learning in a way that was natural for them. After all weren’t we given the opportunity as children to run free and find our own fun? I believed even then that children are naturally drawn to risk and adventure. I’m so pleased I found this current model that gives children back their childhood.

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