Children Doing Dangerous Things

How much danger do we have in our lives?

Probably not much and that’s a good thing right?

As parents and teachers we protect children and keep them safe from harm. We move them away from danger. In fact, we move them so far away from danger we make even the ordinary look menacing.

But what about moving them closer to the red zones and step away from a highly scripted world? Can we talk about danger in a rational way rather than being irrational and inspiring fear in the minds of children?

Risk-taking seems to be a natural instinct for children, at least initially in their lives. When adults get involved we tend to remove the risks and then unsurprisingly children get nervous about doing certain things. We have essentially robbed children of their sense of adventure and keep it in a padlocked box.

But not everyone sees it this way and wraps children up in a 15.0 tog duvet.

Gever Tully and Julie Spiegler are the authors of 50 Dangerous Things (you should let your children do) and it is their mission to help us find exciting ways for children to explore the world around them and embrace a little danger. The message reminds me very much what Mike Fairclough says in his book Playing with Fire: Embracing Risk and Danger in Schools.

Some examples of the 50 dangerous things include:

  • Lick a 9-volt Battery
  • Play in a Hailstorm
  • Throw a Spear
  • Break Glass
  • Make a Bomb in a Bag
  • Learn Tightrope Walking
  • Superglue Your Fingers Together

Image courtesy the author.

You might think the book is reckless and will just end up with multiple trips to Accident and Emergency. Some of these activities have caused a bit of a rumpus because of their titles. Making a bomb in a bag is actually a variation of the classic volcano experiment using bicarbonate of soda. The activities come with warnings about the dangers involved and what to do as safely as possible. And this is the point – the book is as much about safety as it is about danger. There is advice for doing things in controlled ways and what to look out for.

The element of danger has largely been removed from the curriculum and children’s lives because we focus far too much on what can go wrong. Risk-assessments are still crucial and so is supervision – these things aren’t ignored. But let’s give children a chance to experience doing things not watching others do them. They need first-hand experience of climbing a tree, playing with fire and breaking the recipe rule book. How ever will they learn about safe risks and unsafe risks?

As Gever Tulley says, we need to Beware Dangerism! because

When we strive to remove all the risk from childhood we also remove the foundations of a rational adulthood, and we eliminate the very experiences that will help kids to grow up to be the empowered, creative, brave problem-solvers that they can and must be.

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