By. Lisa Howard, Co-Chair of ISGA Risk Working Group and Principal at Bay Tree Design
The International School Grounds Alliance (ISGA) released a Declaration in Berlin, Germany on September 4th stating the benefits of risk for the development of children and youth. Written by 14 professionals working with green school grounds from seven countries and four continents, this succinct and common-sense statement cites research from around the globe showing that indiscriminate risk-minimization policy can be a source of harm.
Every Leadership Council member of the ISGA from 16 countries and six continents endorsed the Declaration including Green Schools National Network, Natural Learning Initiative, Green Schoolyards America, Evergreen, and many other organizations from North America.
School grounds provide children with a place where they have daily access to the outdoors. However, collectively as an international adult community, we have diminished the grounds beneficial risk opportunities for children and youth over the past forty years through decisions focused on issues ranging from maintenance budgets, to supervision concerns, to play equipment standards. These individual resolutions are often well intentioned but do not take into consideration the loss of beneficial risks, and thus do not provide opportunities for our children and youth to challenge themselves. This loss of challenge limits their ability to develop confidence, resilience, judgment, and other significant life skills.
Over the past five years, in response to these diminishing opportunities for beneficial risk in children’s public places, interest in beneficial risk has been building based on a growing body of research, social media discussions, conferences, and articles in the press.
The global significance of the ISGA Risk Declaration is threefold.
(1) The Declaration provides a global summary of ideas and research on beneficial risk, based on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children, that can be read, accessed, and shared in over 20 languages.
(2) The Declaration can be utilized as a resource for any adult that makes decisions that impact children’s play on school grounds locally, regionally, countrywide, or internationally.
(3) The Declaration can act as an international collective voice for beneficial risk. The Risk Declaration page on the ISGA website provides a place where people and organizations can endorse the Declaration.
The Declaration can specifically benefit K-12 schools in a variety of ways.
(1) The Declaration provides a summary, with supporting research, to create informed dialog among administrators, maintenance staff, designers, supervisors, parents and guardians, and others regarding the benefits of risk for children on their school grounds.
(2) This Declaration can be used as a resource when a District or individual school is developing a play policy. The Declaration can help frame the outdoors as a place with goals for learning, socializing, health, and well-being. It can provide guidance on how risk is assessed as this is different than play equipment safety inspections. The play policy can cite research and ideas in addition to the existing codes and guidelines to form a policy that is well balanced and represents the needs of children and youth.
(3) The Declaration can be utilized as a resource when talking with organizations outside of the school that may impact school policy such as insurance companies, regional policies, or funding agents.
Since its release, the Declaration has been endorsed by over 80 additional organizations and individuals from Australia to Turkey, has been posted by groups such as Children & Nature Network, and has been presented at international conferences, including the IPA conference in Canada.
It is ISGA’s hope that organizations and individuals across the globe will continue to endorse the Declaration and adopt it as policy. This Declaration can positively contribute to the conversation of children’s play and learning by encouraging politicians, school districts, insurance companies, and others to consider and equitably weigh the benefits of risk with other issues when making decisions that impact learning and play on school grounds.
Landscape Architect, Lisa Howard, is a co-founder and Principal of BAY TREE DESIGN, a Leadership Council member of the International School Grounds Alliance (ISGA) and co-chair for the ISGA Risk Group. Since 2006, Lisa’s professional work and passion has focused on creating places that foster children’s healthy and well-rounded development in learning and play.