Taking Responsible Risks

Previously we had discussed with the children the Habit of Mind, “persisting” (EDUCA, 23 July).  Early this term the Year 2’s  looked at “taking responsible risks”.

When you go to do something you say, “Well I’m not sure if that’s going to happen …I’ll take a risk”. (Student 1)

“You do something dangerous…. And then you hurt yourself…” (Student 2)

“It means, if you’re responsible in something …you take care and look after it.(Student 3) 

The children then drew some examples of when they had ‘taken a responsible risk’ some of these included learning the piano, buying lego or running late for school!


“Oh I know, I know, my mum took a risk…mmm , we were late for school, and then she took the highway…(not the freeway) and then it was a risk for me ‘cause I got really late to school.”

It’s me using a keyboard… and I was really struggling at the first time and I got a special app that I’m supposed to do and I got some notes wrong… there was lots of learning to control my keyboard.  Sometimes I might get something wrong…sometimes I just close my eyes and I actually know which one is right.

When you buy Lego… the Lego box might not have the right piece ‘cause they forgot to put it in 

Following a discussion  the group co-constructed the process of ‘taking responsible risks’ to involve three steps:

  • Think about what might happen
  • Make your best choice
  • Decide what to do

We were interested in coupling this language with the first hand experiences the children are involved in the Wildspace of ‘responsible risk taking’.  We decided that teaching the safe use of the flint & steel to light a fire would provide a great example.

The next day we revisited this experience (and other Wildspace experiences such as using tools) by watching some video together.  Each example was discussed in terms of the process involved in taking responsible risks:

The children then drew examples of their own experiencing in the wild space.  A comparison of the initial drawings to these final ones was conducted. We noticed in these final, drawings a significant increase in the association of vocabulary and process of  ‘taking responsible risks’.  The articulation of a strategy and the decision making process both, also significantly increased in the final drawings compared to the initial drawings.

Another significant variation was the inclusion of ‘self’ in their drawings.  In the final drawings 100% included themselves in the drawing , compared to 66% of the initial responses.  This is also encouraging as it would suggest the children are referencing their own first hand, direct experience of the cognitive analysis of the risk.

“When I was climbing a tall tree, I chose to go up a small amount and see how dangerous it was and how many spiders…I didn’t go that high, ‘cause I knew it would be dangerous… I took a responsible risk when I was climbing, it was actually really tall.”  


I was thinking to climb a tree, an unstable tree… I thought about three steps…the palette was unstable, so I thought about what could happen, the stick was unstable, to climb and that was almost tipping.  So the thing I thought , is I should just try climb up the tree and hang on to this maybe and just go up this way.” 

“I’m taking a responsible risk so the palette doesn’t fall on me..I put it on the tyres and moved it  around out here, to the back” 

Recent developments in psychology, on the theory of embodied cognition provide a theoretical framework to support these findings.   The theory and research into embodied cognition suggests that rather than considering cognition as occurring independently from other bodily systems, it is in fact inseparable from, and highly dependent on sensorimotor, perceptual and affective experiences. As in this example, the grounding of the meaning of words through bodily experience, created a more robust ‘indexing’ of the language which then supported language understanding and memory recall of a specific vocabulary.

This demonstrates how the ’embodied’ experiences associated with nature play was able to provide a potent environment for developing students’ perception and awareness of the specific HOM (2009) cognitive behaviour ‘taking responsible risks’.

Establishing the vocabulary, provides the opportunity to specifically focus on strategies that support learning.  For example when learning  we often have to ‘take a risk’ to extend ourselves, risking failure or making a mistake, but it also can lead us to developing new knowledge and skills.


Nicole Hunter (Bold Park Community School’s Pedagogista)


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“The shrewd guess, the fertile hypothesis, the courageous leap to a tentative conclusion - these are the most valuable coins of the thinker at work. But in most schools guessing is heavily penalized and is associated somehow with laziness.”

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