At Woodland Outdoor Kindergartens we advocate something called risky play. If you are unfamiliar with the term risky play, you would be forgiven for being slightly daunted by the concept! Therefore, I thought I would take this opportunity to write a blog which is all about risky play. I will explain what risky play is, illustrate prominent educationalists and pedagogues who endorse the concept, and consider positive ways in which risky play can affect and assist child development.
Starting with the basics- what does risky play actually mean? According to Little and Wyver (2008), risky play can be described as activities that potentially involve small risks of injury or discomfort. Examples of this include climbing a tree, balancing on a log or skating on a frozen puddle. As you can probably gather, an outdoor environment provides many brilliant opportunities for children to engage in risky play.
Whilst we may encourage children to assess their own risk and engage in risky play, it is still our utmost priority that children are protected from harm and remain safe whilst enjoying a day in the woods. So, the question arises; how do we advocate risky play whilst also ensuring children’s safety? Mariana Brussolini is an academic who has dedicated much of her research to studying child injury prevention within outdoor play. In 2012 she published an article titled Risky Play and Children’s Safety: Balancing Priorities for Optimal Child Development.
Brussolini claims that outdoor risky play is an important part of child development and acknowledges research which suggests that stringent efforts to eliminate all risk from children’s play could lead to a condition called “Risk deficit disorder”. Brussolini provides the following advice regarding the safest and most effective ways to promote risky play: “An approach can be encouraged that focuses on eliminating hazards which are not obvious to the child and may be hidden, such as a broken metal railing, but does not eliminate all risks.” This creates a situation that allows children to recognize and evaluate a challenge and decide on the best course of action that is not dangerous but still involves some elements of risk. This approach has been endorsed by many bodies and organisations - such as the Adventure Playground movement - and is the approach we aim to promote here at Woodland Outdoor Kindergartens.
Risky play is in fact not a new phenomenon and in one way or another, can be seen to have been promoted by educationalists from as early as the 1700s. Fredrich Frobel (whom some of you may remember from a previous blog post!) made the following statement in relation to children taking risks within their play. “The mind grows by self-revelation. In play the child ascertains what he can and can’t do, discovers his possibilities of will and thought by exerting his power through spontaneity.” Within this quotation, Frobel acknowledges how discovery through play and self-challenge, which has not been inhibited through adult precautions, becomes an essential component of a child’s development and self -awareness. Therefore, Frobel can be seen to have been promoting the principles of risky play in the eighteenth century.
Let’s move on to talk specifically about the benefits that risky play can have on our children and their development. According to Play Scotland, Risky Play can facilitate the development of children’s gross motor skills, co-ordination and balance. This is due to the type of movements that are typically associated with risky play such as climbing, swinging, rolling and hanging. There is further evidence which suggests that engaging in risky play is good for children’s sense of resilience, self-confidence and motivation. I can attest to having personally witnessed this during my career as a practitioner at WOK; when children are awarded the responsibility of assessing their own risk, they feel a greater sense of motivation to create new challenges themselves. At WOK, Risky Play is the best kind of play!
Brussoni, M., Olsen, L.L., Pike, I. and Sleet, D.A., 2012. Risky play and children’s safety: Balancing priorities for optimal child development. International journal of environmental research and public health, 9(9), pp.3134-3148.
Little, H., Wyver, S. and Gibson, F., 2011. The influence of play context and adult attitudes on young children's physical risk‐taking during outdoor play. European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 19(1), pp.113-131.