At Knox Forest School, we like risk. I swell with pride when I see a child taking a physical risk. Risk looks different to each child. To some of our kids, risk means climbing a tree, while to others it means walking down the stream. This is one of my favorite things about forest schools. It meets kids where they are.
But even more important than risk taking is VOICE.
Last week we went walking through the field. One of the girls asked me, “Are there snakes in there?” Everyone stopped to hear my answer. I did the whole snake spiel, “yes, there are snakes here, but they are more afraid of you than you are of them….” Some of the kids kind of shrugged in response, but most just ran straight into the field without even seeming to notice my answer. Not this little girl, though. She became statuesque and said, “I can’t go in there.” I knew immediately that this was not a place to push, but to encourage. “I am so proud of you for using your voice." I said. "What a great job listening to yourself. You can wait right here or walk around the field and meet us on the other side.” She smiled with a mixture of relief and pride and walked around the field to meet us on the other side. Another student asked her why she didn’t walk through the field like the rest of them. She responded with such confidence, “I just didn’t feel comfortable because of the snakes.” They all just nodded their heads at her like, “Yeah, I get that.”
On Friday a group of kids wanted to climb a “mountain” (aka hill) and asked me to go with them. I said yes, and I asked another little boy to go with us. He gave me a nervous and hesitant yes. I knew it would be a huge risk for him, but I felt like he was ready to take it. We started up the hill. Pretty quickly this little boy said, “I don’t want to do this.” I immediately smiled and responded, “Ok, do you want me to take you down? I am so proud of you for climbing this far and for using your voice when you were done.” He wanted me to take him down and walked away seeming proud that he not only had taken a risk, but had used his voice well.
I want these kids to trust that little voice inside of them. Risk is important, and the more we allow them, the more likely they will take them. But I will never sacrifice their ability to trust themselves to encouraging risk.