Risky play prepares kids for life

Liz Peniston

By: Liz Peniston | Date: 21/05/2013

I was out with some friends the other night and we started an interesting discussion about the ‘dangerous’ things we used to do when we were out playing as kids. Proper danger mind!

I was out with some friends the other night and we started an interesting discussion about the ‘dangerous’ things we used to do when we were out playing as kids. Proper danger mind! I’m talking about balancing on planks on building sites, exploring derelict houses and attempting the infamous tree jumping challenge which had 3 grades – ‘easy peasy’, ‘bit braver’ and ‘broken arm for sure’ – no padded floors, no regulations, no supervising parents (mind you, that was in the days when they chucked you out after breakfast and you didn’t come back till it got dark). AND getting a pot on your arm made you into a hero (blast my good landings and strong bones!).

At Eureka! we’re passionate advocates of learning through play and while we don’t actively want to encourage a trail of parents heading to their nearest A & E, we do believe that children need to understand risk by discovering it on their own terms.  Play-based learning is at the heart of everything we do, and learning about risk is an important part of a child’s development particularly when it comes to later life when those all-important judgements about risk and safety are critical to being independent.

In August 2008, commenting on the then government’s safeguarding strategy for children, Adrian Voce, Director of Play England, applauded then Children’s Minister Ed Balls who said “We mustn’t wrap our children up in cotton wool, but allow them to play outside so as to better understand the opportunities and challenges in the world around them, and how to be safe.” That pretty much sums it up.

Politics to one side, Ed Balls’ comments do strike a chord in many parents today who feel trapped in wanting to let their children be free to explore but are now caught up in a quagmire of directives and cautions based around Health & Safety.

Here at Eureka! we have a range of indoor and outdoor play areas specifically designed to give children the freedom to explore, discover and to make quantified risks based on their own judgements on their strengths and abilities. And in future developments we hope to take this a stage further with more ambitious all-action galleries aimed at older children who want to challenge their bodies in an active, outdoor environment where forces such as speed, height and balance come into the whole play experience.  Play should have an element of risk, but that risk needs to be recognised and managed accordingly by the providers and, through play-based learning, by children themselves.

Tim Gill, one of the UK’s leading thinkers on childhood, believes that children have the potential to be more resilient, responsible, capable and creative than we give them credit for.  He advocates that we need to reconnect children with the people and places around them and with the natural world on their doorstep; give children time and, more importantly, space for play and exploration; and finally support parents so they feel able to give their children some of the freedoms that previous generations enjoyed when they were young.

Above all, we need to accept that it is natural and healthy for children to take risks when they play, make mistakes, have everyday adventures and test themselves and their boundaries.

So, what can we do to enable and TRUST our children to take more risks?

Take them to adventure playgrounds and parks and stand back as they climb, slide, explore and discover.

Research what’s going on in the local area to encourage children to take part in risky play activities such as skateboarding, rock climbing, canoeing. Play England has an interactive map with some amazing ideas: www.playengland.org.uk/nature-play-map.aspx.

Understand the benefits of risky play to children’s development.

Share acceptable risk boundaries with children.

Take risks yourself and get stuck in! Research shows that acting as role-models for risky play acts as a great motivator for children.

This blog also appeared as a column in the 17 May 2013 edition of the Halifax Courier.

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Eureka! The National Children’s Museum
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