So much of children’s lives these days is carefully managed by adults, whether at home or at school. Our natural instinct, rightly, is to protect them but in doing so we can deny them access to so many opportunities for them to be personally responsible for their own growth and learning. Yes, making sandwiches for them is quicker, easier and perhaps healthier, but how many more benefits would there be if they did it themselves? Perhaps we should worry less about the messy outcomes at first (crumbs everywhere, a deep gouge in the butter and so much missing cheese!) and encourage small activities to foster independence, resilience and a sense of achievement.
Recently I was lucky enough for school to let me spend four days on the beach, training alongside eleven others to become a Wild Beach Leader with Sussex Wildlife Trust. The principles of Wild Beach are to reconnect people with their natural world, using seaside settings to instigate, test and maintain children’s curiosity in the world around them. During my time I went rock-pooling; made beach maps, discussed the geography and geology of the area, beach combed to create artwork, made sundials and found ways of recording, understanding and explaining the tides, talked about sustainable fishing and even had a treasure hunt! The sorts of activities I plan to do with many of your children during Wild Beach sessions in the future.
Having this time outside and looking at the activities we undertook brought into focus the importance of giving children and young people the opportunities to take risks and be responsible for their learning. Through teaching skills and setting limits, Wild Beach offers opportunities to connect with nature, gives many chances to experience and learn how to handle peer interactions, gives important time away from screens, promotes physical activity and offers mental health benefits too. I am fully prepared for the many learning opportunities Wild Beach will bring; the youngest children might end up with wellies full of water but they will learn the limits of where to stand when there are waves. The older pupils can enjoy the challenges – and frustrations – of trying to successfully build a shelter on a windy beach. I hope that this might encourage you to think about ways in which you could take a tiny step back and allow your child to develop the skills of responsibility, independence and self-regulation at home.
Children need to be able to experience risk (in a controlled way), they need to be able to make decisions for themselves, make mistakes, fail at something and learn that although it can be frustrating and disappointing, it’s not the end of the world and that life goes on. It is our job as Prep school teachers, and as parents, to prepare children to live their lives independently of us. We can begin this by allowing them to test their own courage and determination; helping children to get a sense of their comfort zone and then what it feels like to stretch it. Giving children the opportunities to make mistakes when the risks are low, to rehearse situations means that when the stakes are higher they know how to cope, what to do and how to succeed.