Adventurous, Challenging and Risky Play for Children: The Time is Now!

By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE. Children require environments that allow them to engage in play that is adventurous, challenging and even risky. Risky play helps children learn about their world; test out what is and is not possible; learn about making mistakes; and discover new things about themselves, their space, place, and environment. Risk taking contributes to children’s in-depth problem-solving and critical- thinking skills. Children in over-regulated environments have significantly fewer opportunities to master the challenges that active play spaces provide. Children have a right to environments that offer them the opportunity to experience adventurous, challenging and even risky play as it is important to children’s development and overall well-being (Dietze & Kashin, 2017). These words are from a module on risky play that is part of a free outdoor play training course composed of 12 modules. If you are interested in signing up there is an upcoming April intake and the information is below.

free-online-course-on-outdoor-play

I have had the privilege to work with Beverlie Dietze from Okanagan College to develop these modules. We just returned from Ottawa where we attended meetings with the Lawson Foundation.The Lawson Foundation has an Outdoor Play Strategy and has funded multiple projects across Canada many of which support risky play in early childhood education.

outdoor-play-strategy

Challenging and adventurous play can be risky. Risky play can be defined as a thrilling and exciting experience that involves a risk of injury, but offers opportunities for challenge, testing limits, exploring boundaries and learning about managing risk (Dietze & Kashin, 2017). According to Peter Gray (2016) to protect children we must actually allow them to play and learn with adult supervision. We must encourage risky play. Children love to play in risky ways – ways that combine freedom and the just the right measure of fear to produce the thrill of exhilaration. Ellen Sandseter (2010)  calls it “scaryfunny”. For families and early learning teachers it might just be scary. It is important that information is shared and opportunities presented to help adults understand the significance and benefits of risky play. There is an on-line tool to help us gain the confidence to allow children to engage in more outdoor play from OUTSIDEPLAY.ca.

outsideplay-ca

For readers in the Greater Toronto Area or for those up for a road trip, the York Region Nature Collaborative has an upcoming workshop on Risky Play in Early Childhood Education . I will be facilitating the workshop with my colleague, Cindy Green. This will be the fourth iteration of this workshop. We are attempting to invite adults into play so they can articulate fears and barriers, to be more at ease with children rather than projecting their fears onto children. We will also discuss the importance of a risk-benefit assessment protocol that would include:

  • A description of the activity or experienced provided
  • The location, tools and equipment used
  • The benefits for children
  • The possible risks
  • The measures taken to reduce risk

The images below were captured during our workshops and they tell a story of adults rediscovering their own inner child while learning and engaging with others to find their own “scaryfunny”.

Risky play supports children to become resilient. Reasonable risks are essential for children’s healthy development.  Let’s do it! Let’s take the risk! Support risky play in early childhood education today!

7 thoughts on “Adventurous, Challenging and Risky Play for Children: The Time is Now!

  1. Thank you Diane for your insightful post on the importance of risky play. I feel that generally early childhood educators shy away from risky play, as there is the fear that the children will get hurt, and their families will be upset. We need to educate our families on what is meant by risky play; that this play is exciting and challenging and allows for amazing learning and skill development to be practiced and achieved. As adults, we need to remember our exciting play, and engage in authentic play with the children in our care. I am anxious to share this online tool and blog post to challenge thinking and practices around the play needs of young children.

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  2. Hi Diane. Yes, it is so important that adults share their thinking and concerns about reasonably risky play. Educator’s fears are masked by many layers and debunking what a risk might be, for this child, at this moment takes time for open discussion. Reflecting on practice needs to become integral to everyone’s experience!

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  3. Great posting. It really makes me think of the importance of learning “risk-calculation” and also not making the assumption that kids don’t possess that skill already. When we remove all the risks, or continuously tell them what the risk is, we diminish their ability to figure out what is risky and what isn’t, and what the risks actually are. Surely that can only lead to them making many, many more bad decisions!!!

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  4. Pingback: Moving and Learning | Thinkers and Wonderers

  5. Excellent information. Yes, outdoor play, especially that which includes adventure and risk-taking can be a great way to fuel a child’s imagination, problem-solving skills, as well as their motor and social skills. But, as you very rightly pointed out, the right equipment should be used. Apart from excellent choices of child-friendly and safe playground equipment, you can also choose items like obstacles courses, as well as gazebos and shelters for a complete outdoors experience for children, while ensuring that they are safe from injuries.

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