I’m so excited about this weeks guest blog from Potty Adventures. I’ve been following their adventures for a while now and so I asked David if he could provide some information the importance of risk in our kids lives and how to manage that risk.
David blogs about outdoor family adventures at www.pottyadventures.com with his wife and two young kids, Jesse aged 4 and Amelie aged 2. They live in beautiful North Wales and are at their happiest when they’re in the hills and mountains.
Their outdoor tastes and interests are varied and eclectic but they can most often be found hiking, scrambling, camping, kayaking, biking and skiing. That said, they’re always up for new challenges and usually make taking on something new a New Year’s resolution.
David is an English Teacher by day and holds a Mountain Leader qualification, which means he is able to involve himself in the many outdoor extra-curricular opportunities that his students are offered. In fact, he once led 32 teenagers on a month long expedition to Tanzania which included working in an impoverished school and orphanage and climbing Africa’s highest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro.
David’s goal is to inspire not only his own children to have a lifetime love and passion for the outdoors, but also to help other families improve their knowledge and experience so they too may raise the next generation of young adventurers. Here what he has to say about the importance of risk:
The Importance of Risk
Adventuring with children in the great outdoors is fraught with risk. Dangers lie everywhere: from seasonal weather and moving water, to exposed ground and challenging terrain; there is no escaping the fact that being outside as a family is, potentially, a minefield. So, why do we do it? Because the risk is worth it, of course. In more ways than one!
I read a great quote recently from Tom Mullarkey, Chief Executive of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. He argues that “we must try to make life as safe as necessary, not as safe as possible”. This mantra, when applied to the great outdoors, is absolutely spot on. Why on earth would we want every single last element of risk removing from the outdoor experiences that we share with our children? We wouldn’t. They would learn nothing from those experiences nor would they enjoy them as much.
Part of the reason that so many of us love being outdoors is that it transports us away from the uniformly organised and often sterile world of our daily lives. This modern life, characterised by huge suburbs, endless motorways, TV re-runs and wireless connectivity can be a rather unadventurous place to be at times. By getting outside, to parts of our planet that have been left wild, isolated and undeveloped, we are able to escape this humdrum and explore. We explore the outdoors to test ourselves and immerse ourselves in raw, natural beauty. Of course, anything that we test ourselves against comes with an associated risk. However, in order to get a true sense of reward and accomplishment, that risk is absolutely necessary. That’s why each time we do something we push a little bit further, a little bit higher or a little bit faster. This is the same whether we are 7 and skiing down our first blue run or 37 heading deeper into the powders of the backcountry, the importance of risk in kids lives shouldn’t be underestimated.
Of course, we don’t just suddenly wake up one morning with no mountain experience whatsoever and immediately decide to tackle a grade 3 winter climb. But, by building our skills and experience over time, it’s well within the grasp of a hell of a lot of people. Take the previous skiing example: not many of us skied our first blue run and wanted to stay there for life, did we?
Perhaps the first thing we need to do as a society to get more kids outside is to embrace risk. Part of the process of growing up is to slowly, under guidance and with support, begin to judge risk for yourself. Children, through holding hands and being taught the Green Cross Code, begin to assess the risks involved with crossing a road, for instance. Then, when their age and maturity dictates it, they will be able to do it unassisted, thus keeping themselves safe as they lead more independent lives.
Kids also learn, over time and through experience, how to do simple, yet potentially dangerous stuff around the home, like making a brew. I wouldn’t dream of letting my toddlers near a boiling kettle at present. They have neither the strength to lift it safely nor the awareness of what boiling water can do to them yet. However, as those things change I’ll begin to introduce them to little tasks like these until they can make me my morning cuppa. That’s what we do as parents in our homes every single day. So, why should their ability to perceive risk and manage it for themselves be any different in the outdoors? It really shouldn’t. We judge, as parents, using our own skills and expertise, at what stage they’ll be ready for certain adventures. There really is no difference. And yet, I have seen and heard of outdoor parents (including those who are outdoor professionals) being berated by other parents who ignorantly judge that they are putting their kids at risk by taking them up a mountain, going wild camping, or taking them skiing etc. This is why I say we, as a society, need to be more open to embracing risk. We do it in the home. We just need to translate that to the children being outdoors too, before we end up with a generation of obese kids whose greatest adventure is conquering Call of Duty.
So, what sorts of outdoor risks do I expose my two young toddlers to and how do I manage those risks? Well, the first thing is that we take them out in all weathers. Living here in the UK we can’t just spend our time sitting and waiting for a perfectly calm day with moderate temperatures. Nor would we want to. Getting out in different temperatures and weather conditions teaches us different things about the outdoors. For example, my four-year-old already knows that when it’s raining or the ground is wet, he needs to take greater care on polished rocks and boulders. That said, we carefully manage the activity and length of time we are out to the forecast and current conditions. By researching beforehand, checking regularly during the adventure and having the kit and clothing to keep us safe and comfortable in any conditions that could possibly be expected in that particular season, there’s no need to shy away from ‘bad’ weather.
Next, we give them the freedom to explore open ground. Although we have occasionally used a toddler backpack and strap to tether one of them to us when we visit busy shopping parks, we wouldn’t dream of using them outdoors. As such, having planned the route in advance and observing the current landscape with our eyes and checking forthcoming features on a map, we have mitigated the risk of them walking off a cliff, for instance. However, it’s important to us not to micromanage their natural inquisitiveness and desire to explore. So, within an area that we’ve checked for serious dangers they are free to explore. Yes, there will be rocks, bogs, uneven ground, nettles and sheep poo. Yes, they’ll fall over from time to time by running too quickly on an off-camber section of trail, but all of these things can form learning points, even for toddlers. Plus, we always carry with us a first aid kit stuffed into the bottom of my rucksack. That and a few Jelly Babies can work wonders for a bruised knee and ego.
Another risk that we have exposed them to is night-time adventures. Using areas that we know like the back of our hands, we’ve carefully selected spots for wild camps. These spots are isolated enough to get a true sense of being in the wild, but are only short, easy hikes away from a car journey home. We take all of the necessary gear (our four-year-old, for instance, has his own emergency whistle and head torch among his growing collection of outdoor kit) and make sure that the kids know how to use important items and in what circumstances. Then we relax. Because when we are relaxed the kids are relaxed. They, therefore, don’t think anything of being on open moorland, setting up a hammock and tarp to sleep in, going for a little sunrise walk before having supper enveloped in complete darkness, illuminated only by our head torches.
As you can see, if you want the rewards associated with the bonding and shared experiences that being outdoors with kids can bring, you need to be willing to embrace risk. This isn’t risk-abandon, far from it. It’s just a slightly altered perception. By planning effectively, being prepared for all conditions and eventualities, and being brave enough to let them enjoy new experiences outside, just as you would in the comfort of your own home; kids, whatever their age, are able to ski, climb, hike, canoe and the like. So, what are you waiting for? Get outside.
We agree, the importance of risk in kids lives outweighs the perceived dangers. If you aren’t comfortable with the risks involved don’t let that stop you, start small, get some training, get some skills and get outside!
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