2.6 – Explain how a Forest School promotes appropriate risk taking and how this impacts on learning and development

The more risks you allow your children to make, the better they learn to look after themselves.

– Roald Dahl


Thorpe Cloud

It is now widely recognised not only in scholarly articles but also in mainstream press and books that children need and want to take risk and that depriving them of opportunities to do so limits their ability to recognise and manage risk later in life. Through risk taking children gain not only confidence but also an awareness of their own limits and boundaries. They learn how to be safe.

Sadly though, despite this increased awareness of the importance of risk, fear of litigation is forcing many schools to err on the side of caution and there a growing trend of schools of banning activities that present a factor of risk such and rugby and conkers.

According to Sandseter (Categorising risky play—how can we identify risk-taking in children’s play?) risky play can be categorised into six categories:

  1. Play with great heights such as tree climbing.
  2. Play with high speed such as rolling, running or sledging down hills.
  3. Play with harmful tools such as bow saws and knives.
  4. Play near dangerous elements such as lakes, rivers and streams.
  5. Rough-and-tumble play such as playing soldiers and other play fighting games.
  6. Play where children can ‘disappear’ or get lost such as in the middle of the forest 🙂

In any activity, from walking a tightrope across a canyon to crossing the road, there is an element of risk. Managed properly though any risky activity can easily be made a comparatively low risk activity. Forest School recognises the importance of risk taking and promotes opportunities for children to take managed risks. Activities in many Forest School sessions, such as tree climbing, whittling and hide and seek games, would fall into one or several of these categories.

When assessing whether the level of risk is acceptable or unacceptable there are three factors to consider:

  1. The chance of coming to harm.
  2. How severe that harm would be.
  3. The rewards or outcomes of the activity.

Completing risk assessments for activities provides a framework to make a judgement about the risks involved in an activity. If an activity initially appears to be high risk then measures, such as protective equipment, may be put into place to reduce these risks and make it an acceptable activity. It may be that despite presenting a level of risk the potential benefits of an activity simply outweigh the risks involved.

Risky and ‘dangerous’ play is an essential part of growing up. As long as the risks are appropriately managed Forest School sessions should provide children with regular opportunities to develop both their awareness of risk and increase their confidence in managing risk.


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