• Suzanne Axelsson

The story of... Risky Play and Indigeneity

Risk is one of the essential threads of Original Learning.


During the last few weeks I have been immensely fortunate to listen and dialogue with Norm Leech, Executive Director for the Vancouver Aboriginal Community Policing Centre (he is from T’it’q’et, a St’at’imc Nation community which surrounds the town of Lillooet) and Four Arrows (Cherokee) also know as Dan Trent Jacobs or Wahinkpe Topa.


For some time now I have been trying to connect my thinking about early years education, play, including risky play with Indigenous worldviews, and my greatest honour was to hear Norm Leech value my thinking and seeing the connection. Of course my hour talking with him prior to the conference and then his comments and reactions to my presentation have helped me see things much more clearly as to which path I need to continue walking on.


What is clear is that risky play is one of the truest forms of autonomous play left to young children. We cannot force children to take part in risky play, it is something they choose to or not to participate in. We can though, limit children's access to risky play - and this happens frequently. By our attitudes, the resources we provide, the rules we put in place and even the body language we exude. Our role, as educators and parents, is to provide children safe access to risky play, also called adventurous play.

Sandseter and Sando (2021) write that risky play is play that includes one or more of the following:-

  • Heights

  • Speed

  • Dangerous elements (like fire and water)

  • Dangerous tools

  • Rough and tumble and war/fighting-play

  • Disappearing or getting lost.

  • Play with impact

  • Vicarious play

So we need to ask ourselves, how do we provide play with speed, heights etc in a safe way. So that children can challenge themselves appropriately as well as feel the thrill.


Norm Leech spoke with me about the western worldview of the five senses when in fact we have more senses than that... senses that connect us to the world. Risky play can be a way to access these senses - that sense of exhilaration allowing us to connect more keenly with the world around us, the sense of joy and well-being, the sense of wonder and amazement, discovering what your body is capable of... and senses that are as yet beyond my capabilities of comprehending that Norm talked about but there lacked words to name them - senses that allow interconnectedness.


Four Arrows talked about "courageous fearlessness" and this made me think of risky play in the lives of young children too. "Fearlessness comes from acting with courage AND having a sense of spiritual affinity". By this he meant a trust in the universe... which I have understood as at first we do things with courage and fear... the fear prevents us from experiencing fully everything around us... when we trust the universe, that we no longer have fear (but still need courage) then the person is open to the experience - to feel the wind, hear the sounds, taste the air, see the details that fear would otherwise veil. We become interconnected.

Four Arrows went on to say that "many have courage without fearlessness owing to the dominant worldview perception that ignores this deep spiritual awareness".


So, maybe, by providing safe risky play... where children can use "courageous fearlessness" they can feel the play with all their body and being - they can connect with their surroundings, their body, their emotions and create that interconnectedness that will give them knowledge to keep them safe, in our terms "risk assessment".


Sandseter and Sando write about how risky play is essential for well-being... the sense of joy and thrill, the autonomy, the overcoming of fears. All interconnected in adventurous play.


Norm Leech talked about the importance of traditionally young indigenous children needed to engage in safe risky play because there was/is a requirement for them to become autonomous as fast as possible when it comes to safety and risk assessment. They are outdoors more, they are interacting with nature, there are tools and ways of life that the Western World protect their children from thinking them incapable... yet an Indigenous approach sees the capability of the child and understands the need to keep them safe through risky play. This is not something unique to North American Indigenous peoples but also Indigenous peoples around the world... I have read about it in Sami cultures, in Australian Aboriginal... and I include films at the end about a hunter gatherer community in The Congo.


I am looking forward to learning more about how Indigenous Knowledge can positively impact how we view children, play, learning and the world... as I will start a collaboration and exchange of thinking with Hopi Martin. I have gifted tobacco, as is tradition, and I still have my tobacco he gifted me a year ago, and we will meet over tobacco (and the internet) to start a reciprocal learning journey together.


Risky play is part of giving children roots of responsibility and wings of independence.



Below... risky play. Real tools, getting lost, vicarious


risk of getting lost (it also shows how children learn by watching AND doing. Sometimes we forget just how important watching is, as hands on learning has sometimes made learning by watching something to avoid... but if we insist on having children in same age groups, it falls of the teacher, and not older children, to show and demonstrate)


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© 2017 Suzanne Axelsson. Interaction Imagination. Stockholm, Sweden.
suzanne@interactionimagination.com 

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