“Risk assessment cannot be taught at a desk while looking at a chalkboard. The essential components to learning this invaluable skill are time and space, two things that kids these days are often lacking. There is an innate drive in children to experiment with increasingly complex movements and in doing so they learn what their bodies can and cannot do. They learn about severity and probability of consequences. They learn the amazing, lifelong skill of risk assessment...” This is an excerpt from a blog post,
Risk Assessment is a Skill That Requires Time to Learn,
and was an extremely thought-provoking read for me.
In this blog, the author, Virginia Yurich, begins by talking about the complexity of parenting, and conscientiously making sure that we are doing all of the right things, checking off all of the right boxes. Then she goes on to talk about things that cannot be measured, specifically, the development of risk-taking and risk assessment in children. She postulates that the theoretical equation for risk is this: Risk = Consequence x Likelihood. In other words, children, over a period of time, must learn to evaluate both consequences and likelihood before taking a risk if they are to manage risk-taking safely. And, as many parents and educators know, the development of the
prefrontal cortex though often not fully complete until about age twenty-five, is also absolutely necessary for good judgment, and aids in good risk management. Yurich, however, asserts that childhood is the absolute best time to develop risk assessment skills, and she believes that being outdoors often and taking smaller, then greater risks is one of the best ways to develop risk-taking skills in childhood. Her examples are clear and concrete. Children are wired for adventure, and grow in risk-taking prowess when carefully introduced to activities that require them to learn what their bodies can and cannot do. As they become more confident, wise adults allow them to assess and take more risks by allowing nature to teach them about the consequences and likelihood (and severity) of consequences.
As I processed this blog post, my thinking drifted to other areas of risk-taking, and especially to gifted and talented children. What if we could take lessons learned about risk-taking in the great outdoors, and translate them into lessons about intellectual risk-taking, and/or social and emotional risk-taking?
Dr. Jim Delisle, a gifted education teacher and consultant speaks on this topic in his article Tips for Parents: Risk-taking and Risk-Making. He shared some excellent advice with the Davidson Institute and parents of highly gifted kids. He differentiates between risk-taking and risk-making in this way: “risk-taking emanates from an outside source—a parent, a teacher, a coach—who asks a child to try something new or to take a current activity and “ramp it up” to a higher level. When the risk is offered, the child has the option of taking it or not. With risk-making, the person who is compelled to initiate a new activity or expand an existing one is the child him/herself. Instead of waiting for someone else to invite you to try algebra, tennis, or chess, you, as the child, take the proverbial bull by the horns and elect to enter this activity due to your own interest in doing so.”
Delisle asserts that gifted kids may be more at ease with taking risks when they are in the driver’s seat, or are risk-makers. When they have chosen the risk, they might disappoint themselves, but this disappointment is self-centered. When others encourage taking a risk, there is a chance that children may feel that they are disappointing both self and others if they fail, a double-disappointment. Knowing that many gifted children struggle with perfectionism, and are often risk-aversive, this double-disappointment could be more devastating.
Delisle offers some strategies when dealing with risk-taking and risk-making: helping children understand the difference between risk-taking and risk-making, modeling how to take risks, taking risks with your child (“walking the walk”), noticing and applauding small successes, and helping children know when to stick with things, and when to dabble in them, when to “go,” and when to “let go.”
In linking the ideas in both articles, I can see a clear case for using the great outdoors as a way to encourage and teach risk-taking skills. As an educator, I have spent thousands of hours with thousands of kids at Outdoor Learning Centers and gifted camps, and have watched even the most risk-aversive kids learn how to manage fear, disappointment, and failure. I’ve also watched them take tentative risks, persisting, learning to “go with the flow,” and congratulating themselves for trying and mastering new and difficult things. Just as they do when they are young, they begin with small risks, and build to greater risks. They learn how to measure both consequences and likelihoods with acuity and confidence. I’ve used these outdoor experiences to bridge the physical world with the intellectual, and social and emotional worlds. Just as kids learn what their bodies can do, they learn what their minds and emotions can do. Watching this amazing transfer of knowledge is nothing short of miraculous!
In today’s world, it is becoming increasingly evident that children need more outdoors time; perhaps this outdoors time is just the antidote for risk-aversion. In the words of kids, “who knew”? Perhaps now we do.
As always, I welcome your ideas. Together we grow.
Past President, WATG
(WATG would like to extend a huge thank you to Dr. Martha Aracely-Lopez of Milwaukee Public Schools for translating this article into Spanish for our Spanish-speaking families and educators. The translation can be found in our website blogs.)
Gifted in Perspective
A column designed to link the gifted perspective to other perspectives, and to make you think.