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Risks and Benefits of Outdoor Learning

Our thoughtful approach to risk management includes a risk-benefit assessment (RBA) of activities and experiences we routinely engage in. We also do daily site scans as on-going monitoring of conditions in our changing outdoor learning environment. The following is a snapshot of our risk-benefit assessment that highlights how we embrance and mange risk. Note: Our complete RBA also includes level of risk and actions we take to mitigate each one.

Climbing trees

Risk: Injury from fall
Benefits: Children develop confidence, perseverance, and bravery as they take physical and emotional risks to climb. Gross motor skills of hand-eye coordination, balance, spatial awareness, and motor planning are all part of physical skill development. Children learn about the characteristics of trees, bark, leaves, and branching and creatures that inhabit trees through close observation (science inquiry). Children gain a new physical vantage point and perspective of the landscape, too.  

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Stick Play

Risk: Injury from improper use or carrying
Benefits: Children develop fine and gross motor skills when picking up and carrying sticks. Stick play encourages children to speak and social as they invent games and make-believe play. Sticks present problem-solving and construction possibilities invovling spatial skills. Children hone math ideas of sorting, counting, measuring, or grouping in sets. Visual discrimination is used to find a particular kind of stick. Observation of branching patterns is a math concept that helps with tree ID. Sorting sticks by size is also important for fire-making. Sticks can be used as writing, painting, and drawing implements helpful with literacy development. Sticks are excellent in cooperative passing games. Sticks can be used to make a beat for the basis of music and song.


Tool use (general)

Risk: Injury from improper or unsupervised use 
Benefits: Children take develop sense of accomplishment and self-sufficiency as they learn to use various tools (EX. mallet, shovel, screw driver, saw, potato peeler, etc.) Fine motor skills are furthered by careful use of tools. The challenge of using tools is rewarded through sense of pride and confidence. Children regulate their emotions and learn to slow down as they follow directions, slow down, and concentrate on proper tool use. Group building projects using tools instill collaboration and teamwork.


Trail hikes

Risk: Walking on/exploring uneven ground can cause children to trip or fall 
Benefits: Gross motor development (locomotor skills), balance, and motor planning is enhanced by walking and climbing on uneven terrain. Children develop physical endurance on trail walks and experience the features of our local landscape as they develop an appreciation for our natural community.



Risk: Illness from incorrect plant identification
Benefits: Children hone observation skills and identify plants by leaf, flower, color, size, bark, scent, etc. (science inquiry). Children develop understanding of conditions and needs of specific plants and where to find them. Children describe traits of plants and other animals that rely on them for food and shelter. Children become familiar with harmful plants and how to avoid them (EX. posion ivy). Children come to understand our essential connection to plants as nourishing food and medicine. 

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Risk: Injury from burn
Benefits: Children discover ways people use fire for light and heat. They experience changing states of matter. Children learn how fire can be use for cooking healthy food and drinks such as roasted pears and mint tea. Children discriminate between kinds of branches when gathering firewood. Children help construct different kinds of fires used for different purposes. Children follow directions and exhibit caution around fires, regulating their bodies and emotions to participate in campfire activities. Children develop respect for the power of nature. Children feel comradery and unity as a member of our campfire circle. Children listen to and express ideas or stories around the fire. Children use charcoal remains for drawing and painting. Fire is a crucial element that has advanced human existence; under the close supervision of adults, children experience this direct connection to the natural world.

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Encounters with animals (general)

Risk: Injury from pinches, bites, or stings
Benefits: Children grow empathy, love, and appreciate for all living things. Children come to understand that every creature has a role to play in our natural community. Children demonstrate fine motor skills as they hold or touch small invertebrates such as worms or beetles. Children form knowledge about different life cycles of various animals from birth to death. Children demonstrate care and compassion. Children learn to identify animals native to their community. Children imitate the actions, sounds, and other behaviors of animals through imaginative play. Children reflect on interactions with animals through storytelling, writing, drawing, dramatic play, games, song, and creative movement. Children become more aware and mindful of the needs of other living things and ways they can act to protect them.

Risks and Benefits: Programs
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