When I was four years old and my sister was five, we intentionally did something that was Very Naughty. Our parents were having a party one evening. We had been put to bed and could not sleep for the excitement of hearing all the voices downstairs. We had been told not to disturb the party. So that’s what we did.

We stood at the top of the stairs and took turns to yell, “Nosey Parker” and, “Bossy Boots” down to the party. As we were ignored, we took more and more steps down the stairs (running quickly back up after each call). Eventually our mum came and spoke to us firmly and made sure we were back in bed once and for all.

We were blatantly out of order. We had decided to do the crime and accepted that we may have to do the time for it. And today I witnessed exactly the same cheeky glint in two children’s eyes as they decided it was worth being naughty.

It all began quite innocently. In the photo above, the child had been decorating the outside of the den with tarps and material. He moved onto designing the interior and was just getting comfy in his “bed.” Another child decided that it would be fun to try and push a tyre inside the house too. After several thwarted attempts, he chose to abandon this in favour of lifting the house up to get the tyre inside. And that’s when everything kicked off.

Within seconds, the house was on its side. Inspired by the excitement, the children had to fill it up with stuff – anything to hand and start rocking it.

Because they realised that they could move the house about, that quickly became part of the experiment. At which point I was in a dilemma. Do I step in and intervene, because it’s not good for the house to be used this way? After all, it’s designed to be upright. Also moving a big bit of kit around in a small place with other children liable to get in the way, does up the possibility of a child getting hurt.

Or do I step back and see what happens? After all, the children are well, engaged, experimenting, exploring, using their gross motor skills and developing spatial awareness. And – a big deal in an SEN class – the children are working together. A third child who generally prefers to be on his own, decides to join in the action. This is quite significant and unusual.

So, here was a good example of dynamic risk assessment which educators and childcare professionals have to deal with on a daily basis. In a split second we have to weigh up the situation, make a decision and follow through with the consequences of that instant decision-making.

There is never a policy that covers every situation. It’s impossible. Professional judgement is needed. Having worked on a weekly basis outdoors with these children for 18 months, I knew them pretty well in this particular setting. There was a very good ratio of adults to children, owing to the level of support the children require.

Also, as I was nearby, I could supervise and keep an eye out for other children too. By this time, the upside down house was getting pretty full of loose parts – so much so, that the children could no longer get inside and rock the house from within.

More moving around and rocking of the house continued. At which point bits started to fall off such as window frames and we heard a plastic cracking sound… oops! The children paused momentarily. At this point I decided that I better step in.

We all removed the stuff from the house and turned it the right way up. What interested me, was how readily the children were up for this. Had I intervened earlier I’m not so sure that I would have had such compliance.

By now the house was in the middle of the outdoor space. We put the frames back in the windows – mercifully the cracking sound was just one frame falling out.

Then one child looked around and realised that because the house can be moved, it didn’t have to go back to its original place. So through consensus the house ended up in a new corner of the playground beside the wooden stump sand pit. All ready for its next adventure.

No more naughtiness. For a moment…

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Kierna C January 12, 2013 at 08:49

Definitely a ‘why not’ moment! I think that you’re so right about having to know the children & the staff/child ratio, their age also comes into it here. Sadly in most settings where there isn’t a good enough staff/child ratio this sort of thing can’t be allowed or would be dangerous. I have also found the children need to ‘see’ why what they are doing may not actually be a good idea. How lucky this school is to have you working with them.


Tom Bedard January 13, 2013 at 07:37

Juliet, I often see children try things that have unexpected outcomes. Those unexpected outcomes lead to more unpredictable explorations. Those unpredictable explorations are often where we find our limits—and our creativity. This was really a nice piece illustrating how you reflect on your practice in real time.


Juliet Robertson January 13, 2013 at 08:06

Thanks for both of your comments. Tom, your thoughts remind me of a quote by Mark Twain, “Why not go out on a limb? That’s where the fruit is.” Very often we seek something at the edges or borders of the unacceptable or danger to reap the benefits of doing so.

It’s when we push or test boundaries that find out and discover things… hmm… an interesting perspective on behaviour!


landartista January 17, 2013 at 17:50

Juliet- I appreciate your coverage on this event. Your thoroughness in description and photos really makes the scene and decision come alive. As a designer of children’s spaces people are always saying, “but what if the children…” misuse/ abuse/ creatively use an item. I love to see the outcome from your perspective.



Mick Mack January 25, 2013 at 15:59

Hi Juliet, admire your perspicacity through experience and emotional sincerity ‘in the now’. This aspect of edge puts me in mind of the same concept in relation to habitat diversity, where one meets another and there is an exchange that isn’t found within either habitat and contains a greater enriching of species and activity. It’s all connected. In permaculture, the greater the edge the more diversity, the healthier the ‘system’. Thank you.


Juliet Robertson January 25, 2013 at 19:05

Hi Michelle

You are right – I think often we focus too much on the correct use of a resource but particularly with the children with whom I work, their perspective on what is an appropriate use of a resource differs very much from either a traditional use or adult expectation. Going with their flow seems to be more effective.

Mick Mack – You raise a very thought-provoking point. I believe that it’s at boundaries and edges that interesting things start to happen. In personal development terms they call this the stretch zone. But in all sorts of other places it is where there are tensions or gathering or actually where all the creativity really starts to happen. That’s why risk taking matters – that’s about pushing a boundary in someway. So I really appreciated your ecological interpretation too. Thanks.


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