Have The Early Learning Goals Made It impossible For Our Children To Take Risks?

Posted on: September 23, 2014

When I was about two years old a man told my grandmother that I would make a good rugby player – when she informed him that I was actually a girl he just said, ‘Pity help you then’. I proceeded to be a pretty fearless person who was quite prepared to risk physical injury to do what I wanted, in fact I have broken my nose so many times that it has actually become straight again.  I managed to avoid any serious injury but did sprain my wrist while putting the breaks on when I went over a ramp – I never did that again.  When I was a child I used to love climbing trees and getting into territorial battles with other groups of children relating to the ownership of our den.  In fact we were definitely more, ‘Lord of the Flies’, than Cbeebies.

As a young adult I have tried climbing, abseiling, caving, canoeing, sailing, windsurfing and many other activities that involve a calculated risk.   I always considered bruises to be a sign of being adventurous and had no hesitation in showing off amazing purple patches on my legs and arms to show how courageous I had been.  However since having my son I get really bothered if he has bruises or evidence of risk taking on his body for fear that it looks like I haven’t been looking after him properly. Even my own mother worries about him hurting himself in a way she didn’t when I was a child.  My son doesn’t seem to have inherited my fearless genes and tends to consider the consequences of every action meaning that he always takes calculated risks.  I am having to quash my protective instinct and actively allow him to get hurt and scared in playgrounds and in the countryside so that he can learn from his own mistakes.

The Early Years is the most important time in a child’s initial development and although the government has being producing a nicely decorated early years curriculum apparently children are still not prepared for school at five years old.  This is after they have spent a year in nursery and a year at school, does this indicate that the educational environment is not conducive with the way a child develops?  Maybe children really can’t learn in a mass production environment after all.   The Government perpetually makes staying at home to look after your own child either financially impossible or socially unacceptable.  Studies are starting to show that children from deprived areas are going to underachieve in schools whether the school is graded, ‘Outstanding’, or lower.  This really points to a child’s crucial learning time to take place within the home environment, the government however has made this increasingly difficult for parents who need advice and assistance by either closing or reducing the hours of Sure Start Centres that provide valuable information on how to help your children learn and develop.

Everything in life is quantifiable and graded in a way that a child can be given a grading at five years old.  In order to grade a child you have to make the environment they are in clinical and organised and play becomes formal rather than spontaneous episodes of learning.  No child ever learned to walk by sitting still and listening – they took risks and persevered until they achieved their goal.  The only way a child can learn about their own body and world around them is by taking risks and experimenting with every aspect of their being.  For many years failing was part of the learning process but now children have to achieve their goals or they have failed in some way.  A school is a failure if their SATs results aren’t up to scratch but you can’t grade compassion and emotional support.

The only way we can ensure that children have the opportunity to take physical risks away from the academic intensity is by giving them the opportunities when they are at home.  We all cannot afford to have a child’s climbing frame in the garden, some don’t even have a garden so it is fundamentally important that there is provision made in the form of communal playgrounds for parents to allow their children to take risks in a safe environment.  Growing up is about knowing your strengths and weaknesses  and being able to interact with people who are friendly and of course those who are hostile.  There is nothing like a confrontation in the playground to teach you about human nature.  We need to stop over protecting our children and let them learn from their own mistakes and the education system need to remind itself how we do learn in those exciting early years!


The Child’s climbing frame featured in our main picture is available from


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