Skip to content

Bon Newsletter Issue 2: Worth the Risk

Without risk, learning doesn't happen.

Hi there! Welcome to Bon's monthly newsletter capturing the transformative impact of programs around the world. This month, we are exploring the role of play and risk-taking to deepen learning outcomes. Let's have a little fun around here!

- Anna Batchelder

100 Seconds on Programs

We aren't goofing off, we are learning. This month, we explore the role of play and risk-taking in program design to deliver lasting learning outcomes.

Taking a risk is scary. You could get hurt. You could embarrass yourself. You could lose. Worse, your child could get hurt, embarrassed and then lose. The list of imagined ill consequences is endless. Avoiding risk might mean missing out on new experiences, but at least we are safe... right?

"Better a broken bone than a broken spirit." The notion of intentionally designing risky situations might sound absurd, but that is exactly what advocates for adventure playgrounds, such as The Land, believe is missing from youth programs. Children at The Land climb trees, use handsaws, paint murals, build fires and swing over ditches in a setting that looks more like a junkyard than a playground. Rather than avoiding risk, children are encouraged to explore open-ended possibilities. According to filmmaker Erin Davis, who profiled the adventure playground in North Wales, "At the heart of The Land is the opportunity for children to control the content and direction of their own play." What if instead of avoiding risk, we reframed taking a risk as an opportunity to develop personal agency and build confidence?

"Risks and hazards are different things." The fundamental distinctions between a risk and a hazard are knowledge and choice. "A risk is something a child chooses to interact with," explains Dave, a play supervisor at The Land. "If a child is not aware of it, that is a hazard." The job of a play supervisor is to remove anything that could cause harm. The art is in knowing when to step back and let the children experience the joy of taking a risk. Kurt Hahn, the founder of the outdoor education program Outward Bound, a leadership program for teenagers that is built on principles similar to The Land, once said, "without risk, learning doesn't happen." By creating an environment that encourages risk-taking, while guarding against hazards, we create the ideal setting for learning and growth.

Interested in learning more about designing for risk? We are watching and talking about the documentary The Land with the interstory community next week. Join today, membership is free!

What We're Up To

What's Inspiring Us...

Can randomness make programs better?: How can we structure a learning experience by creating very unstructured parameters? How lightweight could our intervention be while still achieving a desired outcome? After listening to a Planet Money episode about a highly effective program that used randomness as a key design principle, we looked at the structure of randomness and how we can bring more randomness into program design. Read more!

Beware the humor cliff: Hahaha! We all know that a good laugh can leave us feeling happier and more alert, but too often we leave our sense of humor behind when we enter the office, which is perhaps where we need it most! With our focus on the power of play this month, we were captivated by a recent episode of the Hidden Brain podcast exploring the importance of humor as a learning tool with behavioral scientist Jennifer Aaker. Listen here!

The power of imagination: How do rocket scientists imagine new worlds? "Don’t focus on what makes a thing foreign. Instead, find points of commonality," says Aaron Yazzie, a mechanical engineer working on the Mars missions at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. We love how his use of analogy in astrophysics mirrors the role of analogy in program design. What a world!

“First you jump off the cliff and you build your wings on the way down.”

― Ray Bradbury, author

The End