A slippery trail that winds down a small slope in the forest continues to be a favourite destination during walks. Sliding down the hill is both exhilarating and scary at the same time, and feeling on the borderline of being out of control are parts of what makes the “Penguin Slide” attractive to the children. Experiencing these contrasting feelings is exciting. Children want to be trusted with decisions in respect to managing risks and safety. Our students were able to recognize and evaluate the risks associated with sliding down the hill. They suggested and agreed to follow this set of guidelines that made the experience less dangerous, but that still involved an element of risk:
• Someone should be at the top of the hill and give the “all clear” for sliding.
• Only one person should slide at a time. (After a while, the children expressed a desire to go down the hill as a “train,” so we had to revisit, discuss, and amend our group rules.)
• Only foot-first sliding should be allowed.
• After sliding, move quickly and safely from the bottom of the hill.
• Walk back up the hill along a side route rather than up the centre of the sliding path.
When children generate their own ideas about keeping safe, they are invested in them. We, as adults, don’t have to work as hard to enforce arbitrary, extrinsic rules. After implementing some parameters that made the sliding safe enough for the experience to continue, we noticed that the students appeared to understand their personal competencies and the levels of risk they were comfortable with. They adjusted their risky play to these internal boundaries. After evaluating the situation for themselves, some children opted not to slide, or to slide from only partway up the hill. A child’s personality plays a significant role in the child’s risk-taking decisions. We take into account individual temperaments and we strive to meet children “where they are at” in terms of their approach to experiencing and navigating risk.
Personal resilience, development of self-esteem and confidence for those overcoming fears, group communication, negotiating turn taking, and a growing understanding of physics are just a few of the positive benefits resulting from our visits to the “Penguin Slide.” According to Tim Gill in his article, “The End of Zero Risk in Childhood,” “Children learn a great deal from their own efforts and from their mistakes. If we try too hard to keep them safe, we starve them of the very experiences that they need if they are to learn how to deal with the ups and downs of life.” And the ups and downs of the “Penguin Slide.”