We’re planning an archaeological dig this weekend on Walney Island in Cumbria and are about to welcome a group of thirty year 5 children on Monday to come and see the site, get their hands dirty and begin to wrestle with the skills needed to interpret the dirty old unseen history that has been buried in the sand dunes over the last 100 years.
We’re a bit worried about the exertion that’s expected of the children; their visit is going to involve a good hour long walk along the shore and the health and safety monkeys on our backs are ringing their alarm bells loud and clear in all our ears. Will the children get tired after just a few minutes? What if they fall over? Get upset? Stop breathing? Slump in a sulk just two minutes into the walk and refuse to get up on their feet again?
Thankfully, they’re made of sterner stuff and we learn that they’ve already walked 12 mikes around Walney Island and are used to walking long distances. We breathe a sigh of relief and remember that we have forgotten the little but significant fact that children in schools all over the country are hugely equipped with knowledge, expertise and capabilities which are frequently ignored by us educators and which will frequently stand them in much better stead than we could imagine when staring at the demands that the risk assessment questionnaire makes of us.
The children of Walney, we are soon reminded, know how to walk long distances. They can deal with wet, cold, heat and sun as that’s what they live in daily. An hourly stroll up in the beach in inclement weather is something they do for breakfast. Their forebears spent their working lives outdoors here so it’s not surprising that an appetite for the outdoors has found its way into their genetic make up.
Whether it be walking, swimming, hunting, shooting or fishing, children’s capacities which are borne from engaging with their locality is something to celebrate and breath a deep sigh of relief about. It makes for one less box to worry about on the health and safety audit and reminds us of their innate competences in times which often stress their ignorance, their neediness and their incompetences.