Summer’s over: How are children socialised to keep themselves safe?

la Rochelle
Le vieux port La Rochelle

Welcome back to the start of the new academic year; we hope you had a lovely summer and managed to have a little rest and recuperation time. One positive about taking a little time out, is that it gives you chance to put your brain in a different gear and reflect on life in a different way. If you are lucky enough to be able to do this in a different environment ie go on holiday, then all the better.

One of us was able to take a train trip to France and spend a few restful days in La Rochelle, a beautiful bustling port town on the Atlantic coast. The town centre is built around the old harbour full of cafes, shops and ice cream stalls. It seemed such a family friendly place and therefore the perfect place to contemplate childhood. What really struck us as we watched even very young children, running, jumping, peddling and scooting around the edge of the harbour, was the apparent lack of concern from parents about the fact that their children might be at risk from hurtling into the deep water below; there was no wall, fence, railings, just a sheer drop – not even a life ring. We spent the week waiting for an accident to happen but of course it never did.

There is a whole genre of anecdotal writing that compares the British and the French way of bringing up their children but our observations in La Rochelle made us wonder if there was any research evidence. And then, naturally, our thoughts turned to risk taking possibilities and issues for our very youngest children including what is written about this in different cultural contexts.

Of course, we are definitely not saying that those parents we observed weren’t concerned with the risk of the sheer drop into deep water; but something had happened in the way that they had socialised their children so far, so that the children were both kept safe and also knew how to keep themselves safe by not going right to the edge (although we did see a family with young children with their legs dangling over the side). Kleppe (2018),writing about the risk taking of 1-3 years olds in the Norwegian context, would suggest that ‘children’s ability to assess risks is developed by approaching and handling, gradually, more realistic risks’ (p.259). We would love to have observed how a gradual approach had worked in this particular context.

We talk a lot about risky play in ECEC but these children, enjoying their holiday, weren’t necessarily engaging in play; rather they were spending time interacting with their families, going about their business. Which begs the question, have they learnt about keeping themselves safe through risky play in an educational setting, through parenting or a combination of both? One thing we do know is that cultural practices from the home setting are mirrored in the ECEC setting particularly as far as the youngest children are concerned.

We’d really like to know what you think, particularly in terms of cultural practices around children learning to be safe – both in the home and in the ECEC setting. Good to chat again; have a great year!

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