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Season 3, Episode 18:
Are You Risk Averse?


Marina Robb

Hosted by: Marina Robb

In this episode, Marina discusses:

  • The empowerment of educators and those who work with young people.
  • What we have lost since the 1920’s, in terms of children’s roaming radius!
  • The cultural lens of risk and play.
  • How our own risk appetite affects us and what we do.
  • Is using our hands for crafts, whittling and fire-making really that risky?
  • The importance of a growth-mind set.

Music by Geoff Robb: www.geoffrobb.com 

Looking for more help with risky activities?

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You'll Learn How To:

  • Empower yourself as an educator to plan and deliver risky outdoor learning activities (and why it’s so important!)
  • Build your confidence to step out of your comfort zone and into a growth mind-set.
  • Discover the latest research and the multi-benefits of risk and the outdoors.
  • Work with an accessible health & safety practice.

Risk is such an important subject that I will definitely keep coming back to.

It links to healthy development, the opportunity for change and growth and help us to build self-worth and confidence!

Do get in touch if you want to add to this conversation and support positive change in our society.

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(transcribed by AI so there maybe some small errors!)

Hello, and welcome to The Wild Minds Podcast for people interested in health, nature-based therapy and learning. We explore cutting edge approaches that help us improve our relationship with ourselves, others and the natural world. My name is Marina Robb. I'm an author, entrepreneur, Forest School outdoor learning and nature-based trainer and consultant, and pioneer in developing green programmes for the health service in the UK.

You're listening to Episode 18 ‘Are You Risk Averse’. Risk is such an important subject that I will definitely keep coming back to it. It links to healthy development, the opportunity for change and growth, and helps us to build self-worth and confidence do get in touch if you want to add to this conversation and support positive change in our society. 

As the winter approaches, I'm really grateful to the scene outside at the moment with so many beautiful colours of the end of autumn. And I've been noticing a little animal in my garden who's been going around and making a little home and covering loads of leaves over him and going to sleep to hibernate.

And it's a great reminder, as the leaves start falling and covering the earth, and the animals, some of the animals going to sleep, it's a reminder to consider taking some more time to rest to rejuvenate.

Which seems kind of contrary when we're entering the winter a bit more at least in the northern hemisphere, and not feeling so outward and feeling a little bit more internal. But anyway, I'm grateful to notice these things have these moments that inspire me, and help me feel a kind of kinship with the trees and with the hedgehogs of this land.

So I want to talk about empowering ourselves and empowering educators and people that work with young people, particularly around thinking about how we encourage more risk, not inappropriate risk not being rude, but actually encourage more risk in our lives and thinking a bit about risky play, but also thinking about what we mean when we think about risk and riskier activities.

Because I guess the moment I start speaking about risk, I think about fear and bad things happening and you know, risk being too much and, and kind of going over the edge with something rather than seeing risk as something that is inherent in all lives, this kind of quality that we really don't know, the outcome was something that we don't that life is uncertainty, there isn't something fixed out there that we can be absolutely sure of sometimes we think we are sure of things, but actually we find out that we're not.

So I'm interested in thinking about how we can empower ourselves and educators to encourage more risky, appropriate, positive behaviour. And particularly when I think about the school system. How are we encouraging more risky activities that could be like in my world, maybe making fires and what will that teach us about ourselves and the world and each other if we had an activity that was making fires or using tools, maybe sharper knives, or drills and the kinds of things that a lot of us in the kind of outdoor world might be more familiar with sort of tools that we can make things with and crafting and stuff like that, which is, surprisingly, were out there in the world.

And as you know, my last episode, I was talking to Tom Williams. And we were just having a moment of thinking and imagining and remembering that sound of the chinking judging of people banging hammers, or using hammers to bang in nails in Word, and I, and I really like that sound. And I know that when I'm running groups with young children and, and older children and older adults, that there becomes a moment where you hear that sound, and you get the feeling that it's like a village.

And the village is just kind of got its own pace. And there's little noises that are familiar of the use of tools, or the kind of background of chitter chatter or of screams, or excitement and so on. And I want to make it possible for people to feel that they can bring that into everyday education, or that if you're running a youth group that you could do that.

And I know, of course, take my hat off to these really well-established organisations like the scouts, the guard, the guides, for school camps, would craft folk that have been providing a voluntary based service for 50 to 100 years, enabling children to get out outdoors and to actually have experiences of taking part in these kinds of activities.

And my hope is that we can bring more hands on, and more experiential based learning into the school curriculum and into our lives more generally. But why? Why do we want to do that? You know, why is it so important? I think what's happened and there is a theme here that runs through these podcasts is that we're very, very obsessed with the thinking brain, the academic brain, the one that can kind of hold memories and regurgitate them in exams.

And it is a massive skill set, and great to develop those kinds of functions and the capacity to be strategic. But I think what we're forgetting about that all these other capacities we have in our lives as humans, that we in the West in modernity are really under developing, you know, that capacity to use our hands and be comfortable around things like tools and making and creating. And yeah, we have a subject that might be called di t design technology when we're in secondary school, but it's kind of fixed just into a moment.

And if you're not interested at any point in taking that subject as a GCSE the kind of subject that the exams we do in the UK, when we're 16, then you're not really going to have any experience of using tools and actually getting the benefits of that. And I'm also thinking about, well, where does this end up? You know, I've heard some people talk about doctors and surgeons who apparently their fine motor skills have deteriorated massively in the last 20 years, because they've just haven't been brought up their muscles haven't learned how to pick up fine things and work with fine tools.

So it's something they have to really painfully relearn as adults. So, sometimes I think that we think about these things as children, and they're kind of the things that children might enjoy doing, forgetting that there's this whole kind of route that exists from childhood through into early adolescence to adolescence to adulthood to work in careers, where we can reap the benefits of a much more embodied, risky, based, exciting, engaging ways of learning that really, really helped us later on.

And, you know, there's a lot of companies out there that are saying they want people to be more creative, more emotionally literate, work well in teams, problems solve, have a growth mindset, that's a big one have a growth mindset that they can learn, as they getting older, and build on what they've already know. And they need these things. And I just sit here thinking is somebody that's worked for years with younger people, and obviously training adults. And I think, well, that all happens in childhood, doesn't it?

It happens when you've had that opportunity to play. And I'm really, really, really struck by the idea that play is children's culture, meaning that's the thing they do. And don't we kind of demean it that they're just messing about or they're just playing that just thing again, which I have mentioned over Many different podcasts.

But this play that play is uncertainty that they actually don't know what's going to happen that big. What if what if I do that? What if I don't do that. And I love that kind of idea of thinking in that way. I ran a project once that was designed by teenagers that they called it what if. So, we started in a place, and we didn't really know where we were going to end up.

And we explored and engaged and talked and did this thing that they call co produce, we listen to each other, more. And we participated. And we tried different things. And that was incredibly liberating. And it was also incredibly, let's say, respectful. It was like, we will live willing all of us to listen to each other, and to find these spaces where we can listen to each other and determine a little bit more about what we might do next.

And I and I think these things are important, you know, determining what we might want to do next, having some agency in that some autonomy, all these words, that actually the researchers are saying that when we have agency and autonomy, we have higher mental health, we have the ability to make our decisions and feel that we are kind of driving our car or life if you like ahead, and we have some power, some intrinsic power, when we actually are given these opportunities when we're growing up.

So what about the adult? I mean, here we talk about risky activities for children, or having opportunities for more risk for this kind of uncertainty. But how were you with kind of assessing your, your, your kind of levels of what you're comfortable with risk. I mean, I noticed I actually went go karting recently, and I went with my daughter, and my husband, and I realised, you know, mid 50s. And I was not going to go really fast. I wanted to go really fast. I wanted to, to, you know, zoom around the corners and so on.

But actually, I was much, much more careful than I wished I could be. I wasn't willing to take risk, but it was my first time ever doing it. And I recognise that if I'd done it several times, I would have been able to evaluate and assess what I needed to do and learn so that I could do it faster. Because yeah, I wanted to have that feeling I was having that thrilling feeling. But behind me was also the voice of our you know, I don't want to hit that wall.

And I don't want to crash into somebody and actually halfway through, you know, somebody was saying, Oh, that guy banged into me and my necks hurting. And I was thinking, Oh, no, that's that. I didn't want that. I didn't want to end up having an injury. What a different mindset for when I was younger, and felt much more resilient in that way.

And that makes me think about how we, yeah, there's sensible illness there too. But I definitely missed out. You know, and the sensible nurses, I remember someone a cricketer, I don't know, somebody told me about a famous cricketer that once said, you know, when he was younger, he'd see that ball coming right at him. And he was he just he was good with it, you know, he went for it, and he whacked it, and he was super successful. But as he got older, he would be able to imagine the things that could go wrong.

And that would really stop him enjoying the experience much more. And so there's a kind of maturity that comes with knowing what might happen.

But then there's a real fear that gets built up that isn't there as we get older that we don't want to damage our legs and hurt ourselves or have a bad back and not be able to walk because actually we know that it's going to hurt. And that's actually going to be problematic, but we're on this real fine line here of well, what do we lose when we become scared?

What do we lose? What we become scared? And how does that feel in our body when we're scared? And what does that stop us doing? When we're scared? And, you know, again, there are going to be times when we have to be appropriate and take that into account and times when we really need to kind of check with ourselves and actually do some of the deeper work to think about what is it? What's going on underneath it.

I think that we have these kind of what I'd call narratives, that kind of rumble along on the top of our lives these stories that we hear And, and we're not really aware with kind of what is feeding those stories. And I think that's really important. So, as I was saying, what about your risk self-audit? You know, how are you with risk?

Are you challenged by making a complaint, for example, in a restaurant, or telling someone that what they've said? Isn't what they agreed to do? For example, what are what is the ramifications of speaking out and being heard? What do you imagine? What story do you have playing that might happen? If you do that? What are you going to lose? What do you fear losing? If you do that?

So there's these emotional risks? And then there's physical risks? And do you worry about what other people think about you? If you do certain things? Is that going to influence your actions? Are you going to stay quiet, when you think things is really, really important? And that really, really matters to you? Or are you going to speak your mind?

Again? What is what's underneath it's going to be influencing you. And do you please others when you don't want to? All these ideas have this kind of risky behaviour, that that we actually stay what we could call in the comfort zone, we stay in an area that feels comfortable, and even so comfortable, maybe that it becomes, I don't know, imagining, like the idea of cotton wool, that we're sitting in kind of a nest of cotton wool, and it's super comfortable and quite nice in there, and it feels great.

But from this kind of cotton wool nest, we're looking out, and we can see all these people having fun and laughing and going places and experimenting, but somehow, we don't want to go out there, or what does it take for us to be supported enough to go out there, to go out there and experiment and try something new and try something new, or think something new, have a different experience of ourselves.

And I go back to that idea that we're more than what we think we are, you know, it's not just our thoughts that need developing, it's also our physicality. And in childhood, I mean, I just think about the, the opportunity to move and be physical is so important, when we're children, to have that confidence in your body, that your body is going to be on your side, it's going to do what you want it to do, if we're lucky enough to have physical bodies that are working for us, you know, that are intact, that we're not living with sensory difficulties or a disability, you know, that kind of freedom to be in your body and to feel that you can move and do things.

And that's building all those kinds of muscles, as well, like this future surgeon, if you like, but it's also building that emotional muscle to know that we can actually take these risks, and most of the time, it's going to be okay, yes, it's uncertain. But what do we learn when we go into that next kind of phase from comfort zone into kind of the edge into that really rich growth learning development stage not so far that we become paralysed, that we get potentially traumatised which numbs us out, in a way? How can we put in place enough? And when are we ready to take those risks.

So there are some children that will absolutely climb to the top of trees. I remember, as a parent, my six year old son at the time, kind of coming out, and I couldn't see where he was. And I look and I heard this voice going, mom, mom look at me and looked up and, you know, right at the top of a tree, you know, but he'd been clever enough to put on a bicycle helmet to get out there, you know?

And then, of course, I just had to kind of turn away and actually, you know, feeling my own anxiety of the possibilities of what could happen and just say, right, you know, yeah, calm down. If you've got yourself up there, you can come down and sure enough, he was able to come down and it was all fine. And you know, he assessed the risks and did that and I regulated myself enough to not actually completely freak out or shout or get really angry really because I was scared for example.

So there's this, this constant relation or thing going on with the adults - our experience of risk, and what we find scary, and how that influences the company that we keep the children that we're working with, and the effects of our own, sometimes unconscious anxieties rubbing off on children. So it's not anyone's fault. We're all doing our best, good enough, we're all good enough. But it is worth reflecting. I mean, certainly in the work that we live in, we're really, really thinking about that reflection all the time, allowing us to think about how we are assess ourselves.

And let's not forget that, you know, in the 1920s, children were what they call, they call it roaming radius, which really means that they're the space that they were able to explore without adults watching them. Some people call that wild play, because it's beyond the gaze of an adult, right. And they were out, really doing their thing, exploring, definitely taking risks, taking risks in the relationships, they were having, taking risks, probably climbing fences, and I'm not even talking about inner city stuff, I'm talking about being having access to the countryside, which is clearly not the case for many and most people, but they were, they were six miles away in the 1920s. By the 1980s, it had reduced to half a mile.

And by 2007, it reduced to 700 yards. So just in that space of time, our support of and the way our culture and society is in the UK has changed is we've kind of shrunken are the spaces in which children explore and play. And the question is always or what have we lost? What have those children lost. And there has to be a link between the confidence that you get to go out into the world to determine what you're doing the choices that you make, to explore so called risky tools, or Pat's making you fires and stuff like that, to not then do that, to always be in the safety potentially? Well, that's questionable isn't it?

Whether the homes are safe, actually, but to be to kind of what of what we lost? With that? And that's the question to keep asking ourselves. And, you know, when I listened and spoke to Tom last week, and thought about how our system is making it really, really hard for charities and organisations, Community Interest Companies who are offering these interventions and spaces, for children to make choices to explore to go beyond that comfort zone. And it's really, really hard because we can't afford to fund these things we can't afford to pay for insurance.

And also, we don't really understand a lot of us that actually, it a lot of these activities aren't that risky. I mean, there are some quite stark statistics that really show that, you know, first of all, most children sadly, die very, very early on for medical reasons, you know, and then we've got all the kinds of car, car traffic accidents that are far worse than anything that I could kind of think up in terms of risky activities and outdoor based activities, which I'm kind of focusing on, you know. And so we really, we need to kind of get our facts in a way in person and those stories that we worry about in the fear of abduction.

And all that is, is actually, of course, we're going to be scared of that. Of course, no one would ever, ever, ever want that for any child and in our children. But we have to figure out how we regulate ourselves and how our system is more regulated more not regulated by rules, but regulated by balanced more in balance, so that the companies understand that what we're doing is the benefits far outweigh the risks.

And, you know, I really, really hope that actually on this podcast, if anyone out there that works for insurance companies, or works for people that could support a whole kind of movement in enabling teachers and people that work with young people and to to actually have those conversations so that we can start really seeing that a lot of the risks which risk, by the way is this combination of severity of something happening and the likelihood.

Generally, we can't, we can't, we can't change the severity of something without first aid. But we can change the likelihood. And actually, when we look at likelihoods, a lot of these things that we worry about are very unlikely, and it's far more likely to hurt yourself on a stove, in your kitchen. And then anywhere else. So here I am talking a lot about risks. And what is acceptable risk and the overprotection, yes, is harming children. And the children really are very, very good at risk assessment.

And actually, emotionally, we really need to have spaces where we can take risks and use tools and teachers and practitioners out there. It isn't that difficult to learn how to follow certain steps to make sure that different children or different ages are appropriately safe. You know, in terms of the instructions that you might give, you do not need a qualification to know how to safely deliver tools or fire for example, yes, you need to know what good practices Yes, you need to write risk assessments and think through what you're doing, you should certainly do not need to think and worry too much about like having to pay an extortion amount of money, for example, to learn these skills.

So lastly, just to remember that when we offer these experiences, to young people in their lives, do it if you're a parent out there, buy a hammer, get a nail, we'll practice some of these things. Do it yourself first, of course, do it yourself first. See what are the issues that come up what you need to learn, for example, but also just notice, the kinds of sensations and feelings that are going on inside you. Children will be frustrated when their fire doesn't light or they don't get to carve something in the way that they hoped. But that is all about learning to kind of manage what's going on inside ourselves so that we don't end up losing the plot in as we reach adolescence, for example, or in later life.

So I'm gonna leave you with a quote that is anonymous. And I'm gonna leave you with this quote, for today. To laugh is to risk appearing the fool. to weep is to risk being called sentimental. To reach out to another is to risk involvement, to expose feelings is to risk showing your true self, to place your ideas and your dreams before the crowd is to risk being called naïve. To love is to risk not being loved in return. To live is to risk dying, to hope is to risk despair, to try is to risk failure, but risks must be taken. Because the greatest risk in life is to risk nothing.

The person who risks nothing, does nothing has nothing is nothing and becomes nothing. He she they may avoid suffering and sorrow. But he simply cannot learn, feel, change, grow or love. Chained to certitude. He is a slave. He has for 50 forfeited freedom. Only the person who risks is truly free. Only the person who risks is truly free. Thank you and see you next week for another exciting episode. Keep well and join me next week when you'll meet Rowan Salim, one of the founders of free we grow a self-directed nature based and socio-cratic children's learning community in London. One of the things that stands out for me in the next podcast is how family and different lands shape our journey and provide for different perspectives.

Thank you for listening to this episode of The Wild Minds Podcast. If you enjoyed it and want to help support this podcast, please subscribe, share and leave a rating and review wherever you get your podcasts. Your review will help others find the show.

To stay updated with The Wild Minds Podcast and get all the behind-the-scenes content. You can visit the www.theoutdoorteacher.com or follow me on Facebook at theoutdoorteacherUK and LinkedIn, Marina Robb.
The music was written and performed by Geoff Robb. See you next week. Same time, same place.