(knock on wood…knock on wood…knock on wood…)
Fair question. When I see them leaping off a mud bank (which sticks in hand), or careening towards me on those balance bikes that they ride like their Formula One cars, I can’t help but think that accidents must be a dime a dozen, but the thing is, they aren’t really. Kids are kids and things will happen, sure, but from what I can tell, and from what all the teachers and parents I talk to say, it’s not any more than in any other children’s environment.
I couldn’t find any real statistics to back up my anecdotal findings so far (forest school educators out there, if you’ve got them, send them over!) but the thing is, the kids in general seem to respond really well to the freedom that they’ve been given. One of the most interesting things that I observed when I attended the first couple of days together with my daughter was that often times, stronger kids look out for the younger or weaker kids. When they’re out in the woods, the older kids might help the smaller ones navigate tree trunks or jumps or other obstacles. Which doesn’t mean that the kids don’t take a bit of a beating…our tot routinely comes home with bruises that make her legs look like a dalmatian puppy, but she’s proud of every single one. We go through a lot of band-aids around here, but those seem to be less about dressing actual wounds and more about having a visual reminder (courtesy of Elsa or Dora or Doc McStuffins) to tell the story of a scrape well-earned to anyone who will listen.
Part of what makes this system work is a mutual understanding between the school, the parents and the students…when something does happen, like a hurt limb (yes, it does happen – not often) or someone forgotten in the woods (yes, it does happen – not often) or someone who slipped into the pond (yes, it does happen – not often), there’s an understanding to keep things “not a big deal”. In general, one of the reasons that kids are allowed so much freedom, is because the educators are allowed so much freedom. And because there’s an understanding in the community that everyone is to some degree responsible. When the kids board a train or bus, other riders help make sure the class stays together. If there is a straggler, another adult would help that child find his or her class.
I know for many in the US (myself included), this immediately screams of stranger danger but the social contract is different here. If something does happen, no one threatens lawsuits here and everyone is expected to help. It’s just the way they do things, and as a parent, you’re expected to accept that here. People do what they can to solve the problem, learn from it, and then move on…
So do things happen? Sure, but not often – or not any more often than they would anywhere else. But still, knock on wood for me just in case!