Gradual Release

Children show us what they are ready for. When children are new to an outdoor play program it can be wise to play in a space that offers a variety of lower risk outdoor play experiences, and offers educators good sightlines and natural boundaries. 

Before we hold space for greater risk in play, we need to know children’s names. We need to know they’ll monitor their proximity to the educators if they’re in a space without fences. We need to know they’ll come over when they’re called. We need to know they’ll be responsive to direction and ideas. And we need to know they’ll pause their play and talk through how to stay safe when we need them to.

The process of gradual release offers children greater autonomy and more choice, as they are showing they are ready for it.  Perhaps that first play space has one climbing tree that children can try when it calls to them in their day. It’s lower to the ground and holds the children easily. Perhaps most children have climbed that tree before the group heads to a space further away with more complex climbing trees,a pile of rocky rubble, and a long fallen tree.  Educators might stay close as children explore the new space and structures. They’ll offer more space in a few days or weeks when they’ve seen that children are making safe choices as they play.

Risky play is an inherent part of children’s play. Through a Community Standards Agreement, co-creating guidelines and thoughtful gradual release we hold more space for children as risky play naturally emerges. 

Reflective Sharing Prompt: Consider gradual release in one aspect of risky play with children on the land. Where did you start in that experience? Where is the group now in the experience? Map out (either by drawing or sharing) the children’s learning, comfort and autonomy as they became more comfortable in one aspect of risky play.