Anybody who has read Dr Michael Carr-Gregg’s ‘Building Happy and Resilient Children’ will be left in little doubt as to what children need from adults in order to develop their ‘resilience’. Resilience, as Dr Carr-Gregg describes, is ‘the capacity of your sons and daughters to face, overcome, be transformed or strengthened by adversity’ and urges parents that they must let their children learn that life is, quite often, challenging.
Despite the advice of specialists such as that of Dr Carr-Gregg and, our acknowledgement of it, increasingly, in today’s society, we often fail to allow children to do things for themselves, and the vital experience of things going wrong. To prepare our children for an ever changing world, our somewhat protective attitudes need to be readdressed. Recent research suggests that we believe children are more at risk now than they were a generation ago; the reverse, however, is true. What is recognised, is that today’s children would benefit from more adventurous play opportunities; yet activities such as climbing trees, playing in a park without adult supervision; playing conkers or hide and seek, lie beyond the experience and apparent abilities of many.
We underestimate our children. Children, fundamentally, have not changed. They are perfectly able to light fires and cook outdoors without adults stepping in when things get a little too hot to handle. Children can make things using a range of tools without adults hovering over them. How many of you can remember raiding the family shed and finding bits of wood, nails, screws, brackets and fixtures to create all manner of contraptions such as coffins for dead mice, musical instruments or housing for, perhaps the not so fortunate, family pet? I imagine that not all went to plan; minor cuts and bruises would have been very visual signs of failure but; the wounds heal. The wounds that do not, and should not heal, are the experiences learned.
Dr Carr-Gregg stresses the importance to the wellbeing of young people, and adults. He emphasises the need to find a ‘spark’; the passion for something that gets us out of bed in the morning, which sees time fly and stops us from clock watching, such is the extent of our absorption. I do not consider myself to be hugely adept at making things, but I openly consider myself to be a DIY enthusiast, the foundations of which, were my childhood experiences.
I am more than aware that many visitors to Wandsworth Prep take a great interest in our Forest School programme and often ask why we place such emphasis on outdoor learning. The driving force is our wish to make school a place in which children are able do things for themselves whenever possible. We encourage children to take appropriate risks and we view mistakes as an indication that they are challenged in the right ways; singing solo in front of over 100 people aged 5, raising money for charity through cooking or art, designing and pursuing their own science experiments, assuming maths problems, reading out a poem that shows how you feel about yourself and the world around you, or speaking up against unfairness. These experiences, alongside academic study, will see children succeed.
Our role as teachers and parents, as Dr Carr-Gregg advises, is not to protect our children from risk, but to nurture and encourage sensible risk-taking. Risk is what enables children to learn and grow and to know themselves well.
Bridget Saul - Headteacher