Montessori parents understand the importance of risk-taking in the development of the child. However, often we need help in navigating risk in the home as the child ages. What kinds of risk should we be exposing the child to, and at what age?
My children are 3, 9, and 13-years-old. Their risk profiles are all significantly different. Risk is something that is frequently on my mind as I allow Otto (3yrs) to climb higher and higher in the climbing tree at Centennial Park, after recently catching him mid-fall from a significant height. Or allowing Otis (9yrs) who already walks to school independently, to walk alone to the local bakery, which is just beyond my comfort zone. Or allowing Caspar (13yrs) to venture further and further independently on public transport (during a global pandemic).
I recently listened to Senior School Teacher and Director of Wellbeing, Lucy Turnbull talk about the importance of exposing children to risk early - if we want our high school-age children to catch a bus and to get out and about independently we need to prepare them and build their skills in years 4, 5 & 6. Lucy jokes that parents need a list of all the risks we should be taking with our kids, this list didn't exist so she wrote 50 Risks to Take With Your Kids: A Guide to Building Resilience and Independence in the First 10 Years (AU here).
The risks included in 50 Risks to Take With Your Kids are mostly for children under the age of ten and they are risks to take with your child, it's not simply a case of pushing your child out the door, it's a journey for parents and children. The risks are divided into three categories physical risk, social risk, and character risk. Importantly, Lucy writes with humor, warmth, and without judgment. She openly shares anecdotes of her own parenting and the parenting of her parents (Lucy, former Lord Mayor of Sydney and Malcolm, former PM).
In addition to the actual risks, I enjoyed learning about the self-determination theory, and Nicolas Taleb's concept of antifragility. Both are interesting topics for parents to explore.
50 Risks also gives parents a ton of support. If risk is already on your radar this is a good guide of areas you might not have thought of. It can also help parents talk about risk with other parents, caregivers, and school teachers.
When Otis was in Year 4 I spoke to his teacher about him walking to and from school independently. She mentioned that for years 5 and 6 many students walk and ride to school independently but for year 4 the school needs to know which students walk alone (without a parent/adult) in order to dismiss them after school. Our (primary) school in the UK was the same, in order to dismiss the child (right up to year 6) the teachers need to know who has permission to leave without an adult.
I would love to see a similar book written by parents with older children who can also discuss some of the challenges they've faced and how they've overcome them. I'd also love to see more specific risks included and how to navigate them.
For example, Caspar (then 12yrs) once missed his bus stop home from school by around 15 minutes. He was far from home and in a new city. I was out and couldn't immediately come and get him. You need to have age-appropriate backup plans so the child stays in control, knows exactly what to do and doesn't become fearful.
Some of the risks are home-focused and many are generalised, so you can adapt them to suit your own circumstance including sleep outside (camping), shrink socks (do the laundry), play with fire (light candles but campfires could have been included here too), raid the fridge (make their own snack), prick a finger (do some craft), roam free, go alone and catch the bus.
After reading 50 Risks and after Otis returned home from school, I felt some guilt about not allowing him to walk to the bakery alone earlier, of course, he was thrilled.
Most Montessori parents (and teachers) would be nodding their heads vigorously in agreement while reading this book. While experienced parents will still get ideas from this book, it would be particularly useful for parents who are new to Montessori and are new to the idea of risk with children at or under the age of 10. It's also important the people in the wider community read books like this that normalise risk-taking, that illustrate risk-taking in a well-considered way is hugely positive and necessary for the healthy development of the child.
"This book may also provide the opportunity for parents to rethink their relationship with risk at a stage where risk-aversion can always seem like the more 'responsible' choice." - Daisy Turnbull, Author.
"We hear that ‘bubble-wrapping’ kids backfires, but how do we start popping the bubbles? When do we fully unwrap the kid? What if we prefer our kids safe and sound, and no risk seems worth it? That's when we pick up this book: a practical, sympathetic guide to giving kids back the chance to make some ‘bad’ moves and grow from them." – Lenore Skenazy, president of Let Grow, a non-profit promoting childhood independence and resilience, and founder of the Free-Range Kids movement.
If you are local to me, 50 Risks To Take With Your Kids is now available at Harry Hartog Bondi Junction.
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