Risky Business

Posted: 17th January 2015 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

We often talk about our current generation of students in terms of the skills they have or lack.  They are tech wizards.  They have an ability to adapt to progress.  They have an inability to persevere in tasks.  They have a need for support in problem solving and critical thinking.  It makes me wonder how much of that is due to the influence we, their parents and educators, have had.  Some of those influences have been intentional:  if you give a 2 year old an iPad to play with and explore, it seems you would expect that they pick up the use of devices quickly and naturally.  Other influences, I think, are more nebulous and unintentional.  We talk about a subset of parents of this generation as “helicopter parents” (or, likely, educators).  Adults who swoop in and save students from problems; adults who fight battles for them, or who limit the battles and decisions they might have to make by planning and organizing their lives for them.

I’m not someone who spends much time in an RV, but I like the commercial created by GoRVing.ca, which you can see here:  Wildhood Video

I don’t profess to be the best parent ever (as I’m sure my children and husband would readily agree), but I know we have worked hard to allow our kids opportunities to take risks.  We let them jump on trampolines, toboggan, climb trees (and walls, and buildings, and once the Loggerman’s Arch in Stanley Park), cliff dive, and swim with sharks.  I will readily take a 6 year old zip lining through the rainforest (and I will zip line too, cane and all).  I will let my kids fight their own battles in the classroom and on the playground and with friends and frienemies.  I will let them get jobs and figure out how to manage jobs and school work.  I will let them train in sports that are dangerous.  I will let them get hurt in those sports, then bandage them up and let them get out there again to train some more.


In our house, we have made a decision to let our kids grow up having to be decision makers, problem solvers, risk takers.  We want them to persevere through trials, to learn from pain and from success.  Do they make all the decisions I would want them to make or I would advise them to make?  Not always.  But then sometimes they make better decisions than I would have advised.

Those are my own kids.  I share the responsibility of their well being but my husband and I are willing to let them take some risks.  In a school it is a little different.  We are entrusted with the responsibility of other people’s children, and I know that they wouldn’t want us to take as many risks.  So we don’t throw snowballs at school, or climb trees, or take them anywhere near water.  And I get why we don’t.  There are risks involved.  We want our students to be safe.

But.  If we as educators are not helping our students learn to take risks and parents are swayed by the media, or fear of injury, or from worry that a child may afraid or suffer a little (although maybe that suffering may also result from good learning and joy and pride at overcoming an obstacle), how do our children become risk takers?  How do they learn perseverance?  How do they discover what THEY can do?

I think, unfortunately, some of our children who are most sheltered from these experiences are ill prepared to deal when serious risk comes their way.  It is hard to shelter an adolescent from all hurts:  drugs, alcohol, mean spirited “friends” are hard to avoid completely until adulthood.  While I totally see that those risks are often very serious, especially when compared to conquering climbing a really tall tree, how will they face the really serious stuff if we have sheltered them from the other things?

I don’t want my kids to grow up in a virtual world.  I want them to experience it fully.  That means they will try things and sometimes fail and sometimes succeed.  Sometimes they will try things with me holding my breath and closing my eyes.  Sometimes they will try things while I bite my tongue.  Sometimes they will come venting or crying when it doesn’t work out.  But other times, I get to celebrate with them and cheer them on.  That makes it all worth it.

How do we encourage our students to face risks too?  How do we make them into the decision makers and problem solvers that we want them to be, while balancing out our need to keep them safe?


  1. Donald @libramlad says:

    I really like the paragraph about how your kids are decision makers first problem solvers second and risk takers third. I think a lot of people see the risk taking over shadowing the former two when in fact I think you have it right in that paragraph because its the decision maker who is deciding to take the risk and deal with problems, or successes that come after.

    Thanks for the post

  2. Aviva (@avivaloca) says:

    Kristi, I LOVE this post, even though I don’t think I have any answers here. I don’t have kids of my own, but at school, I’m constantly watching students, and my duty this year (outside supervising the playground equipment) has me observing students in risky situations. I watch them swing like monkeys from the monkey bars. I watch some of them hanging upside down on the climbers, while other students are climbing over top of them to get to the slide. I watch them play tag on the playground equipment. I watch some of them sit on the top of the playground structure (and with my heart in my throat, I think, please just let them come down okay). I watch students from Grade 1-8 share the structure with no number regulations and the important rule of, “please just don’t get hurt.” 🙂 I watch other students play soccer around the structure and tag around that. It’s loud. It’s busy. There are so many students climbing, swinging, and hanging upside down, and yet, they do stay safe. Yes, I will often utter the words, “Please be careful!” I make choices about where to stand based on what I think may be the more “dangerous” equipment, but students are respectful of each other, and in their own way, they learn to take risks.

    And yet, I watch all of this outside, but still worry when students want to use scissors to cut through boxes. Or they want to stand on a chair to reach the top of a structure that is now above their head. Or they see my DRA box on the floor beside the sink, and wish to stand on it to reach the paper towel dispenser that they can’t quite get to. Sometimes they want to stand on a stool to see out the Wonder Window for their writing or their explorations. I cringe! I often say, “Remember, keep your feet on the floor.” I try to prevent this risk-taking, but then I think of the students in FDK that are hammering in nails and sliding down hills. I think of my same Grade 1’s that are hanging upside down on playground equipment outside, but restricted by me so much inside.

    Am I saying that I want my students climbing on boxes and chairs? No. But I also wonder if Donald’s point is an important one to remember: they need to make decisions and problem solve first, and then take risks. We do “think alouds” when it comes to reading. Maybe we need to do “risk-taking think alouds.” Maybe we need students to consider how they’re solving a problem, what the risks will be, and how they’ll stay safe. Maybe this aligns with our Learning Skills for responsibility and self-regulation. Teaching students how to take risks now and allowing them to do so, may help them out a lot as they get older.

    I just can’t help but wonder if as adults, we’re scared of this risk-taking. Change is about taking risks, and how many of us worry about change? Could this make things even more complicated when it comes to risk-taking at school? I’m not sure, but you’ve definitely given me a lot to think about!


  3. […] I follow @avivaloca ‘s blog.  If you don’t yet you should, for all the wonderful thinking she does about her practice and how it is influenced by all the people around her.  She yesterday led me to @kkeerybi ‘s blog about letting kids be the decision makers, and called it Risky Business. […]