Children learn to cope with the world through outdoor activities, writes a British educator. But adult fears are restricting children’s ability to explore the world. And they’re not any safer as a result.
No environment will ever be completely safe and risk-free, and even well-supervised children manage to hurt themselves. But by speculating on what can possibly go wrong rather than on what children might learn from experiences, we are in danger of creating anxiety in some children and recklessness in others. Children who are fearful will not be able to learn, and those who are overconfident will be unable to make sensible judgements about risk, because their learning environment has become sanitised and over-managed.
. . . Aside from the obvious benefits of taking children into the countryside – the greater awareness of the natural world and our place within it – outdoor and adventurous activities are ideal vehicles for many of the types of challenges and learning opportunities that are necessary for their development. These activities are physically active, and depend upon shared understanding, cooperation and trust. They also force children to draw upon their inner resources to address real problems, presenting children with challenges and perceived risks, and providing a framework for coming to terms with them.
The British have been more likely than Americans to send students on adventure trips — until recently, when “safety first” has made school a lot duller.