In Iceland, “risky play” is a way of life, with students actively encouraged to engage in a variety of outdoor activities such as climbing on rocks near bodies of water.
The following is an observation by two Alberta teachers of how risky play is handled in Iceland, followed by two examples of programs that are allowing for the return of some risk — albeit highly controlled — to Canadian schoolyards.
Risky play part of the Icelandic way
Andrew Spelrem and Sarah MacFarquhar-Sudar, Special to the ATA News
Risky play is a prominent buzzword among educators, parents and physical literacy advocates. A quick Internet search will certainly outline the premise of this topic and its many perceived benefits. Having recently traveled to Iceland as part of an ATA exchange program, we immediately saw that risky play is a way of life for Icelandic children.
We observed students having supervised snowball fights (gasp!) and playing among jagged rocks, bodies of water, free-standing play structures, and some gym equipment that no longer exists in most Canadian schools.
We observed students having supervised snowball fights (gasp!) and playing among jagged rocks, bodies of water, free-standing play structures, and some gym equipment that no longer exists in most Canadian schools. We asked our Icelandic colleagues whether they were worried about the safety of their students, and it was apparent that access to risky equipment and environments was neither questioned nor an area of concern. Through our observations, it was easy to tell that Icelandic children felt comfortable, moved with ease and demonstrated the physical literacy required to maneuver such precarious apparatus and environments.
In Canadian schools, we often remove elements of risky play for fear of what could happen. In an effort to protect our students, are we also removing appropriate development of risk assessment and adventurous play? ❚
Andrew Spelrem and Sarah MacFarquhar-Sudar are teachers at Banded Peak School in Bragg Creek.
Canadian schools loosen up
ATA News Staff
Edmonton’s St. Teresa of Calcutta School recently began a program called Loose Parts Play, which encourages children to use everyday objects for free play with minimal adult involvement.
“We’re hoping that the kids learn to just play,” said assistant principal Kelly Laxdal.
Her school now has a shed full of loose parts like car tires, lumber, tarps, ropes and old pots and pans. Students get a turn playing with the items in an designated outdoor area. Teacher involvement is restricted to supervising and intervening if it appears that something unsafe is taking place.
“The basic rules are you have to always think: am I safe and are people around me safe?” Laxdal said.
The program is offered through Ever Active Schools and has participating schools throughout Alberta.
“There are elements of risky play and that’s why there still is supervision and we really instill in the kids, ‘are you safe?’” Laxdal said.
She added that the program isn’t really about risk but rather about inspiring creativity and innovation in the students.
“We are also trying to promote socialization between similar and different grades,” she said. “We are hoping that our little learners become engaged learners through invention and imagination.”
Rough and ready in Quebec
Some schools in Quebec are loosening up their playground rules by instituting areas where roughhousing is encouraged.
At Cheval-Blanc Elementary School in Gatineau, children will be allowed to jostle one-on-one in the snow. Prior to participating, students will be trained in specific moves by phys-ed teachers, who will also supervise the activities.
“The students can’t kick, push, bite ... so it’s really mostly about grabbing each other and trying to bring them down in the snow,” said principal Patrick Courville in an interview with the CBC. ❚