Taking children outdoors can seem like going on a learning adventure, there’s plenty of research to back up the benefits, so why do most teachers stumble at the door? Could it be the haunting echoes of the dreaded risk assessment?
Risk assessments are necessary to ensure that staff have considered and reduced the risks of going outdoors, but many teachers are either afraid of resent them.
We want to share a better way of risk assessing with you, it’s called a risk benefit assessment (or analysis). This form of assessment provides a balanced view of the risks vs benefits and weighs them up in order to see whether an activity is worthwhile.
If you’re looking for more support around outdoor learning consider our online training. One of the modules in our introductory series (Managing safety and establishing routines in your outdoor space), goes into more depth around implementing the risk benefit assessment plus covers the other areas of safety outdoors that you need to consider . . .
Read on to find out why you need a risk benefit analysis at your setting and to see some examples.
One of the most prevalent reasons for using a risk benefit assessment is because it highlights the importance of why you are taking the children outdoors in the first place. Maybe you know that learning outdoors is vital to children’s development, but do the rest of your staff understand this? When using a risk benefit assessment, the focus shifts from solely being the risks, to the benefits of the outdoor activities. This document empowers educators; enabling them to clearly state what their class will miss out on if they don’t go outdoors!
Typical risk assessments can seem overwhelming because they focus purely on everything that could go wrong. The risk benefit assessment still covers those risks but also states the benefits of being in the outdoor environment. When tallied against the benefits, the risks of such learning seem smaller and manageable, without taking away the learning intention. Giving you the opportunity to provide new learning opportunities for the children! This method of risk assessing will also instil confidence and passion in those more reluctant members of staff as the benefits of going outdoors are clearly stated to them.
One asset of using this document, is the fact that it highlights cross-curricular links so clearly. It provides the perfect evidence for curriculum coverage. For example, a simple in an activity that involves the use of string or cable ties to tie sticks together to recreate a story characters house. The risk benefit analysis makes it clear that this activity develops fine motor skills, comprehension of the story, mathematical thinking, D&T objectives, hand-eye coordination and communication skills. Meaning all of the learning opportunities and intentions are very clear.
Completing a risk assessment in a traditional way, while perfectly safe for children, can bring in our subconscious bias and in some cases, prevent us from enabling children to understand risk. The role we have as educators is an important one. We must ensure that the children we teach are ready to encounter the world beyond the classroom and this includes managing risks.
A risk benefit assessment puts us into a more balanced state of mind, enabling us to open up the conversations with children surrounding managing the risks of going outside. Having discussions around safety is much more effective than simply sharing the do’s and don’ts as it allows children to think about the consequences of their actions. Repeating these discussions will teach children what to avoid, build their confidence outdoors and strengthen their connection with nature.
Yes some of these points such as children managing their own risk could be achieved through a standard risk assessment with the right intention. However, discussions with teachers are demonstrating time and again that if an activity seems too risky outdoors, staff are likely to give it a miss. Hence why we think a risk benefit assessment is the way forward to promote more outdoor learning.
The only thing left to do now is to complete a risk benefit assessment for your outdoor teaching! We have provided a template that we use ourselves to assess and manage the risks & benefits for our outdoor workshops.
If you need a little help with filling yours out, there’s lots more support and information available through our online CPD. The module “Managing Safety and Establishing Routines Outdoors” provides information about:
This module is 1 of 3 included of our “Introductory Series” which you can purchase for £22.50.