What is risky play?
Risky play is a natural part of children’s play, where children have many opportunities to be curious and explore their environments in many different ways. They use their whole mind, body and senses to explore their environment. They may wonder about what will happen if I do this? Will I fall off or stay on? How high can I go?
Children push their boundaries and challenge themselves to do things without the help of an adult. Children may see other children doing something that they would want to do or try doing. This could be a child who climbs up the slide instead of going up the stairs, or hanging upside down on the monkey bars, or balancing on a step on one leg. Yes, this might make you nervous as an adult or a caregiver. I believe we need to be good role models and provide opportunities for them to take some risk. Be positive and show them how to do something safely that you may think is unsafe for them. This can be applied at home or in the classroom.
What risky play isn’t
- Letting children do whatever they want
- Ignoring children as they play in their environment
- Standing too far away from the child
- Not stepping in when a child is doing something that is not safe
How does risk-taking benefit the child?
Risky play is when children engage in activities such as sliding, jumping from heights, climbing, balancing and hanging upside down. Risk-taking benefits the child because it helps them build essential skills for their development; for example, their confidence, self-regulation, and independence.
Risky play helps children build their skills in cause-and-effect, and spatial awareness. Cause-and-effect is when children make relationships between objects and events. Spatial awareness refers to a child’s ability to be aware of themselves in their space. While they engage in risky play, they are continuously learning and developing many new and emerging skills (e.g. physical, social and cognitive skills). Children also go through many emotions when they engage in risky play, such as satisfaction, fear, excitement and frustration.
Facilitating risky play in the classroom
Risky play can happen indoors or outdoors during many experiences and activities. As an educator, you can observe their play, see what they will do and what will happen next. This will give you great observations to document and share with parents and create experiences for them. How many times do you hear other educators and yourself saying “don’t do that”, “that’s not safe”, or “it’s too high”. As a caregiver, you can communicate and use positive language to promote and encourage risky play. Use language, such as “Do you feel safe?”, “Where should you go next?”, or “How high do you want to go?”. This will give the child a chance to consider what will happen next and how their decisions influence what they do.
Reassuring parents about risky play
Here are some techniques, that as an educator, you can use if parents are concerned about their children doing things where they can potentially get hurt:
- Define risky play for them.
- Provide examples of risky play in the classroom.
- Explain how children’s play needs some risk-taking.
- Reassure parents about supervision during play.
- Reassure them about the environment set-up, which is age appropriate and safe.
- Discuss risks that children may take during the early years.
- Provide extra resources about risky play.
Risky play teaches children about their own limits and how to take risks in their play environment. As a caregiver or parent, we can provide opportunities for children to engage in risky play. However, there is always the worry about children injuring themselves, therefore we need to provide safe environments for children to practice and engage in risky play.