Beginning a new school year is rife with uncertainty. An unknown routine, strange surroundings, and rooms full of unfamiliar people all contribute to a high level of stress for both children and adults. Will I know what to do? Will I like what I’m asked to do? What will happen if I’m afraid to try or, worse, try and fail? Luckily, the reality is that our species has learned to adapt quickly. Unfortunately, our emotional brains frequently forget this, leading to a fear of risk.
Within our educational bubble, we define risk as an opportunity to take a chance or explore an unknown. It can involve physical, mental, and emotional tasks. It becomes an acceptable risk when the consequence for failure is not life threatening nor seriously detrimental to the health and welfare of others. A risk worth taking must present a substantial benefit that is not off-set by possible treacherous outcomes.
Our children encounter a multitude of risk-taking opportunities everyday. Some of them seem benign to adults; putting marks on paper, talking to a peer or adult, trying out a new material in play. Others can make adults nervous, but are important for child development; jumping between two rocks, attempting a joke that ends up embarrassing your parents, hanging upside-down, judging the speed needed to run downhill, using scissors to chop chop chop.
Our job is to assess the risks they encounter and balance the potential of the outcome against the possible danger.
Within our classroom, we recognize the risks children meet everyday provide an opportunity to either learn something new or reinforce previous concepts. Our job is to assess the risks they encounter and balance the potential of the outcome against the possible danger. Our students should leave school comfortable with taking reasonable chances and willing to try something new. Innovation cannot happen without a moderate comfort with risk.
We want our children to be able practice assessing risks, as well. While making decisions about small risks such as drawing something you’ve never drawn before, their neurons are practicing for the bigger risks they’ll need to evaluate later. In this way, children practice making choices based on weighing the options.
Interested in learning more about risk in childhood?