Playground plea: ‘As safe as necessary, not as safe as possible’

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Schools are being urged to “take the benefits of risk” into account when planning and managing their school grounds.

A declaration by the International School Grounds Alliance (ISGA) says that school grounds should be “as safe as necessary, not as safe as possible”.

The ISGA is a global network of organisations, educators, architects, planners and researchers, including the UK-based charity Learning through Landscapes.

The declaration has been endorsed by all 54 ISGA Leadership Council members, from 16 countries and six continents and was presented at a conference earlier this month in Berlin.

It points to research showing the benefits of risk-taking and arguing that “indiscriminate risk-minimisation policy can be a source of harm”.

It states: “Since the world is full of risks, children need to learn to recognise and respond to them in order to protect themselves and to develop their own risk-assessment capabilities.”

It adds: “Risk-taking allows children and young people to learn vital lessons about themselves and their world. These are lessons that cannot be taught and can only be learned through experience.

Caution, resilience, courage, knowledge about one’s own abilities and limitations, and the self-confidence to reach beyond them are learned through self-chosen action.

“Risk-taking opportunities are an essential component of a well-functioning school ground. Adults and institutions have a responsibility to use common sense in providing and allowing risk-taking activities for children and young people.”

Manfred Dietzen, landscape architect at Grün macht Schule (Green makes School) and a member of the ISGA Leadership Council, said: “You can only learn to fall by falling. Conventional playgrounds provide children with safety in ‘pretend worlds’ which they cannot find anywhere else. At our 400 playgrounds we give our students opportunities to individually assess risk. Over the past 30 years our students have shown that this approach results in fewer major injuries, and our children graduate with better risk assessment capabilities.”

Learning through Landscapes, a UK-wide charity dedicated to enhancing outdoor learning and play for children, is among those to back the declaration. It said: “Learning through Landscapes is committed to children being able to experience challenging play and learning activities in the day-to-day environment of their school grounds.

“We absolutely support the need to balance the benefits of any activity against the risks associated with that activity. We want to enable schools to make careful and considered judgements that will allow children to develop the skills that they need for a fulfilling adult life.”

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