Adventures in Risky Play

Adventures in Risky Play by Rusty Keeler

Adventures in Risky Play: What Is Your Yes? was written by Rusty Keeler and published in 2020 by Exchange Press. This book examines the issues of risk-taking and children. It invites its readers to consider the boundaries and feelings they have about what risky play should be allowed and challenges them to discover where their boundary lines might be movable.1

The book is divided into five parts. Part 1: Play Manifesto describes the wonders and important developmental benefits of free play, while also showing how well-meaning adults often stop play in many ways interrupting the natural flow that can be observed when children control their own play.

While safety is one of the most important considerations when caring for children, the consequences of stifling children’s play may outweigh the risks. Allowing a child to be self-aware of risks and then letting them choose whether to face a challenge empowers them to learn and make good decisions based on experience. They learn their limits for risks, deciding whether they are comfortable or not with the activity.

Risky play has been defined as a thrilling activity that involves a risk of physical harm, and play that is challenging and tests their limits and boundaries. It has been described in six categories:

  1. Great heights – danger of injury from falling
  2. High speed – uncontrolled speed and pace that can lead to collision with something (or someone)
  3. Dangerous tools – can lead to injuries and wounds
  4. Dangerous elements – where children can fall into or from something
  5. Rough-and-tumble – where the children can harm each other
  6. Disappear/get lost – where the children can disappear from the supervision of adults, get lost alone2

Hindering children from learning to manage risk while young can lead to dangerous actions as teenagers as well as the over-parenting trend that leaves children timid. Parents’ fear-based thinking can be overcome with mindfulness. Realizing that the letters of the word FEAR can represent False Expectations Appearing Real may help caregivers be more open to risky play.

Part 2: Ways to Support Risky Play starts with knowing the children, trusting them, and applying a risk-benefit analysis to their play. Do the risks outweigh the benefits or do the benefits outweigh the risks? This thoughtful analysis gives confidence in the decisions caregivers make about risky play.

Some play spaces offer adult supervision. Playworkers support the play of children, while staying in the background. They are available to help when needed, but step back to allow the children to play on their own while watching carefully for any safety difficulties that might arise. This book suggests rethinking rules and simplifying them to allow greater freedom for free play.

Caregivers must also determine what environmental choices they are comfortable with for children’s play, such as natural playscapes, fixed playgrounds, loose materials, and surfacing. Children’s clothing can sometimes be a deterrent for messy play. Play clothes and rain gear can allow for play in most situations.

Part 3: Provocatives looks at a collection of things that may have some risk, but that would enrich children’s lives if their adults would provide the experiences. Loose parts, hiding places, fire, water, mud, mud kitchens, sticks, tree climbing, and tools are all described in depth to illustrate their use, show the benefits, and calm the fears of the adults.

Part 4: Program Tour invites the readers to visit some of the author’s favorite play places around the world. The book beautifully illustrates five forest school kindergartens, six adventure playgrounds, and four early childhood centers that reinforce outdoor play.

Part 5: Extra Stuff includes a Risk-Benefit Analysis form, End Notes that were referenced throughout the text, a Resource List, and a list of Locations used throughout.

  • 1. “Adventures in Risky Play.” Rusty Keeler. < https://rustykeeler.com/product/adventures-in-risky-play/ > 9 Oct. 2020.
  • 2. Keeler, Rusty. Adventures in Risky Play: What Is Your Yes? Lincoln, NE: Exchange Press. 2020. p. 19.