Teacher urges more risk exposure for kids, revealing class scaled 10ft rockface in Highlands


AN outdoor learning teacher has urged colleagues to let kids take more risks – revealing he let a class climb a 10ft rockface in the Scottish Highlands.

Duncan Barrable said he and other staff watched as the 11- and 12-year-olds scrambled up the impasse “without a care in the world”.

Duncan, head of outdoor learning at St Leonards School, a private shool in St Andrews, Fife, said the incident illustrated how children need to encounter risk, challenge themselves and explore their boundaries.

His comments come amid mounting concern that our danger-averse society is producing a generation of “snowflakes” – youngsters unable to cope with challenge or pressure.

Teacher urges more risk exposure for kids, revealing class scaled 10ft rockface in Highlands
St Leonard’s school where Duncan works

Writing in the TES magazine, Duncan described a hike in the rugged north-west of Scotland.

“At some point in the hike, we came to an impasse: a three-metre-high wall of rock that, in rainy weather, turned into a small waterfall,” he wrote.

“The children, aged just 11-12, just scampered up the rockface without a care in the world. Each child took their cue from the one in front of them.

“We hadn’t really stopped to think about anything, just scrambled up the rock face and encouraged our teammates.

“At that moment it struck me how much risk was being removed from the activities that we plan for our children, and the extent to which they are now mostly stripped of any responsibility for managing risk.”

He added: “As educators, we need to let children encounter risks and empower them to make decisions, to challenge themselves and explore their boundaries. At the same time, we need to mitigate serious hazards.”

Duncan said fear had an important role to play in the development of children.

“The ability to overcome fear and manage risk is as important as the physical skill of climbing up.

“By allowing children to engage with the inherent risks found in nature, we are offering them far more than is first apparent.

“Play, with all of it’s social interactions and opportunities for failure, builds resilience. Taking away these experiences erodes the development of crucial life skills.”

He also described how a nursery have installed an interesting tree climbing policy.

Duncan explained: “It’s policy was that if a child had the ability to climb up a tree, they were welcome to.

“And children who weren’t able to do so weren’t helped up, as they still had the practical learning to do themselves.”