Risky Play: Why do children love it?

As a parent, we naturally feel the need to protect them from harm. However, we need to give them opportunities to explore new experiences and take on challenges that test their capabilities in an environment that is not 100% safe and has a risk of physical injury. This is what we define as Risky Play.

Risky Play is increasingly becoming recognised as an important part of a child’s development. According to Ellen Beate Hansen Sandseter, a professor at Queen Maud University in Trondheim, Norway, there are six different categories of risky play:

Play with Great heights: Letting children climb, whether its tree’s, rocks, steep slopes or climbing structure.

Play with High speeds: Children enjoy experiencing a variety of speeds, learning how to go fast enough for excitement but not enough to lose control. Different types of play that represent risk and excitement are swinging, skating, sliding, bike riding or running down a sloping hill.

Dangerous tools: Depending on the culture, children play with knives, bows and arrows or other tools considered to be potentially dangerous. Children enjoy the satisfaction of being trusted to use tools. Simple tools that can be introduced are palm drills, peelers, Opinel pocket knife, hammers and nails.

Dangerous elements: What child doesn’t love to play with fire, or water, both which pose some danger.

Rough and tumble: Children everywhere fight playfully, chasing and wrestling.

Disappearing/getting lost: All children play hide and seek and experience the scariness of the hide, anticipation of being found or the excitement of finding someone. Older children games of ‘Spot Light’ or venturing off, on their own, away from adults, into spaces that are new to them.

Doesn’t this sound fun?

Benefits of Risky Play

Risky play is crucial to a child’s development and it’s important as parents or educators that we don’t limit their exposure to such activities. There are some key- life skills that can be gained from risky play:

  • Building resilience
  • Develop gross motor skills e.g. Balance and Coordination
  • Confidence and independence
  • Problem solving and resourcefulness
  • Ability to calculate risk and evaluate their capabilities
  • Learn consequences
  • Inventiveness
  • Handle tools safely

Children are highly motivated to play in risky ways, but they are also very good at knowing their own capacities and avoiding risks they are not ready to take. It’s when we pressure them to take a risk that they are not ready for does an accident occur. An example of this is a child climbing a tree, they pause on a limb and ask if it’s ‘safe’ to jump? We say yes, they jump and break an arm – they trusted us. What if we read their hesitation and question then instead of us giving them a yes or no, maybe we should ask what they thought? Guaranteed the answer would be no, and they would choose to climb back down, because they had already assessed the situation as too risky.

If we as parents and educators give children the opportunity for risky play the benefits outweigh the risks and provide the child with holistic development.

We would love to hear your child’s favourite risky play activity?

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