It would seem parents and practitioners are increasingly fearful of letting children take risks within a learning environment. Parents have seen activities and experiences, that previous generations of children enjoyed without a second thought, have been re-labelled as troubling or dangerous Any parents who still permit an element of risk are now being branded as irresponsible (No Fear, Growing up in a Risk Averse Society). The role of fear within parenting and opinion from others in the community is also mentioned by Gill, who states;
“Fear plays a vital role: parents' fears of traffic (probably justified) and strangers (arguably not), and children's fear of crime and bullying. There is growing hostility to children in public space. Behaviour that would a few years ago have been "larking about" is now labelled antisocial, and parents fear being judged harshly if their kids are seen out of doors unaccompanied."
As parents with a new child, keeping children safe is a primary concern. Knives and sharp objects are hidden out of reach of children, damaged equipment is thrown away or removed, and furniture that was deemed safe before the arrival of the child, suddenly becomes a dangerous object that has to be taken away. Corner units are covered with guards and stairgates stop the child from going too far without supervision,
“The opportunities for children coming to any risk has become limited, and children no longer have the chance to assess the danger for themselves.”
Reports about children playing outdoors, and the police becoming involved, have regularly featured in the media. Unfortunately it is becoming clear that in general, the public are less tolerant of children being able to go outside and play as children should. Parents also fear that social services will be involved if it is seen that their child is playing unsupervised from their parents or taking risks that others may deem unsafe as discussed by Cole (2010).
In 2006, a three-year-old child was accused of anti-social behaviour when playing football in the area outside of his house. The parents were sent a letter from their housing association and faced eviction if this continued. It becomes apparent that a neighbour complained to the Council (BBC, 2006). In 2007, two teenage girls were fined £80 for drawing hearts and flowers in chalk on pavements and were threatened with ASBO’s if the graffiti continued (BBC, 2007).
Another case arose in 2013, in this instance a ten-year-old child was warned by police for a chalk drawing of a hopscotch grid. According to the news report, the child was threatened with a charge of criminal damage (BBC, 2013). Most recently, a nursery has been banned from allowing children to play outside, due to complaints that laughing and giggling were ‘annoying’ the neighbours. The complaint is being investigated, and the owners do not know when children will be permitted to play in their garden (Parenta, 2015).
Providing a Forest School environment enables children of all ages to play outside in an environment away from the general public, where noise and creativity can be seen as problematic to others.
“In 1993, the Play Safety Forum was established, promoting the wellbeing of children, through a balance of safety, risk and challenge”
(Bell et al, 2012).
Forest School enables all of these practices to take place, unlike any other provision. Despite this happening for the benefit of children to enhance and facilitate quality of play somehow parents and providers do not know of this, and it needs to be realised again to give Freddie more opportunity to be the free-spirited child he was meant to be.
Another factor in stopping risk and challenging play, are parents and practitioners who analyse everything, in terms of what may go wrong. Putting this kind of fear into children can cause risk, creating anxiety and even recklessness.
“Children that have learned to be fearful and have an anxious outlook are less able to assess uncertain situations, causing them to grow into unconfident and cautious adults”
In a Forest School environment, communication and discussions about the benefits of risk play for children are paramount, children are taught how to stay safe and are made aware of how to protect themselves from harm. Using Maslow's Hierarchy of needs, the children are protected by ‘needs.'
The first tier (lowest) being about physiological needs, and once this is in place for the children the second layer- safety needs, are then recognised and developed for the children. As the child becomes more aware of the Forest School environment, the child can reach the upper levels of realisation.
Parents and practitioners have to realise that children can recognise risks and potential hazards if the leading adult discusses and demonstrates this,
“Children need to learn about risk in an outdoor environment. Not only to protect our future and to learn about nature, but to get to socialise, and think for themselves in a limitless area they can make their own”.
If adults stop children from taking any type of risk- how will children learn how to fail, learn new tasks, accomplish activities by themselves and become independent adults? If they don’t have an opportunity to get a graze, or bump, how will learn how to cope if an accident happens to themselves or a friend? If our children do not learn about nature, how will we ensure our environment for future generations/find new species of insects, or find new ways to look after our planet?