Communicating and Advocating with Teachers and Parents

Risky play provokes big feelings in educators and parents alike. It is challenging to objectively assess the risk in a play situation when big protective feelings emerge because we are worried a child will be hurt. 

One question that helps spark conversation and open sharing with teachers and parents is:

 “How does this feel to you?”

It’s a question you can ask a parent who is watching their child on a zipline in your program. Perhaps they’re concerned and not comfortable speaking up. Or perhaps they’re celebrating their child’s confidence and agility. It’s a question for the teacher who is suggesting the slackline needs to come down because a child fell off the rope. It’s a question you can ask your co-educator when they’re watching children trying to break the ice with sticks at the pond’s edge. 

Their answer might prompt an honest sharing. You might change your approach to accommodate their feelings or you might be on the same page, or you might share your feelings and experience and not change your approach. The question offers an educator an opportunity to share what they’ve learned about supporting risky play, and an opportunity to share all the different kinds of learning they are seeing in each moment. 

Either way, let’s get more comfortable talking about risky play and all the feelings it provokes!

Helpful tips for advocating for risky play:

  • Add outdoor and risky play to your organization’s or program’s vision, mission, or value statements and include these on your website as well as in your parent handbook. 
  • Host a parent/guardian information night and address outdoor play. Include a conversation about risk-benefit assessment. 
  • Invite adults to reflect on their own childhood memories of outdoor play. For many people, giving them the opportunity to recollect adventurous experiences outdoors can be powerful reminders of its value and significance. 
  • Share photos and videos of children at play. Images can be more powerful than words in communicating the richness and depth of children’s play experiences. 
  • Directly observe children at play with educators/playworkers on hand to highlight the value of their experiences. 
  • Suggest that adults visit https://www.outsideplay.ca. It’s a tool to help parents think differently about risk in play and make a plan to support change. 
  • Signpost authoritative resources. Many can be found in the Risk-Benefit Assessment Toolkit. Promoting material from leading children’s rights organizations, educational bodies, public health agencies, and others can demonstrate the breadth of support for outdoor play.