Children encounter risks on a daily basis and are engaged in an intense learning process about life’s risks and uncertainties.1 Risk involves the chance of an adverse outcome, which could result in injury. Minor scrapes and bruises are a natural result of the very nature of play. They help children “learn from experience” and gain an understanding of the consequences of their actions as well as the extent of their abilities.2
Children love a challenge. They enjoy the sense of mastery over their body and its emotions, especially fear. They will take calculated risks to stretch themselves physically, mentally, and emotionally. When experiencing moments of apparent risk, their minds are placed in a state of alertness, resourcefulness, and expectancy. Successfully taking risks result in giving children a sense of personal power and a satisfying feeling of accomplishment.3
From an early age, children are motivated to take risks. They show great determination to learn to walk, climb, and ride a bicycle, and are not overly concerned with the inevitable tumbles they experience as they are developing the necessary motor skills and coordination to accomplish the tasks. Children learn about their own strengths and limitations by physically challenging themselves. If they are not overprotected and sheltered from risk, they will learn to make judgments about their own capabilities and make their own reasoned decisions about the risks involved.4
Children take risks every day, and both individually and as a group make decisions to manage these risks. Most children naturally regulate their exposure to risks avoiding harmful actions and becoming watchful in their play. They make assessments of their physical capabilities and gauge the amount of risk they will take on. They negotiate with each other the “rules” of their play activity to define the amount of risk they are willing to have.5
A balanced play environment allows for challenges that aren’t life-threatening or frustrating to the children. But, they do need sufficient challenges to engage their interest. They should be provided a variety of levels of difficulty to choose that match their skill capabilities. They should feel a sense of adventure and freedom while still feeling safe. A playground that allows freedom of choice and a variety of challenges will engage children in play successfully.6
There has been a growing concern about children’s safety on playground equipment. The fear of litigation has led many play providers to minimize the risk of injury on their playgrounds by eliminating tall structures or other perceived risks. However, this limits the range of play opportunities for children. If their playground does not stimulate their interest, they may be more likely to choose play in uncontrolled environments where the risks are greater.7
Children also spend more time under adult supervision with less outdoor play. Unsafe neighborhoods, busy parents, structured activities, and video and computer games keep children indoors more than ever with little time for free play outside. If children are not given opportunities to encounter risk, they may be denied learning how to deal with risks as they become older.8
- 1. Christensen, Pia and Miguel Romero Mikkelsen. “Jumping off and being careful: children’s strategies of risk management in everyday life.” Sociology of Health & Illness. Vol. 30 No. 1 2008. TS-Si.org. < http://ts-si.org/soc-&-psych/2816-childrens-risk-taking-plumbs-strengths-and-limits-of-their-bodies.html > 18 Oct. 2010.
- 2. “Managing Risk in Play Provision: Implementation Guide.” Play England. < http://www.playengland.org.uk/media/172644/managing-risk-in-play-provision-implementation-guide.pdf > 18 Oct. 2010.
- 3. “Challenging and Adventurous Play.” PSC WA Professional Support Coordinator. < http://pscwa.org.au/getdoc/15311c58-e225-4bed-bc96-49233b0bf475/DCDGUIOSHCFactSheetChallengingandAdventurousPlay.aspx > 12 Oct. 2010.
- 4. “Supporting young children to engage with risk and challenge.” Teaching Expertise. < http://www.teachingexpertise.com/articles/supporting-young-children-to-engage-with-risk-and-challenge-2089 > 12 Oct. 2010.
- 5. Op. cit., Christensen and Mikkelsen.
- 6. Frost, Joe L. Play and Playscapes. Albany, NY: Delmar Publishers Inc., 1992. p.166.
- 7. Op. cit., “Managing Risk in Play Provision: Implementation Guide.”
- 8. Op. cit., “Managing Risk in Play Provision: Implementation Guide.”