When we think of the ideal learning environment for our children, we don’t exactly imagine letting them play with sharp knives or starting a fire but Research suggest that we’re not doing our kids a favour by keeping them from outdoor environments we consider “risky.”
“Risky play” refers to unstructured environments where there are perceived elements of danger. It includes rough-and-tumble play, playing at great heights or fast speeds, playing with potentially harmful tools or near dangerous elements (such as fire), or play where children can “disappear” or get lost (Ellen Sandsetter, 2007).
As parents and carers, we’ll do whatever we can to keep our kids safe. We don’t want anyone to get hurt or lost, especially considering our kids don’t even seem to understand what the words “Be careful” mean.
But this research says there are benefits to parents getting out of the way and letting kids manage risky outdoor play on their own.
- Risky play helps kids develop social skills, creativity and resilience.
Through these activities, kids exercise their ability to assess risk levels. They learn what’s safe and what’s not. They make quick judgments. Risky outdoor play provides a unique environment where kids figure out how the world works, learn to work well with others, and find creative solutions to problems.
- It can also help children build self-esteem.
If a child is told they cannot engage in activities that are deemed risky, they will likely develop doubts about their own abilities.
Children who engage in risky play are more likely to experience positive emotions such as enjoyment, excitement, pride, and self-confidence. By allowing kids to participate in risky play, we are demonstrating that we trust them and they’re capable of problem-solving on their own. This can have profound effects on a child’s self-esteem.
- Preventing our kids from participating in risky play has unintended negative consequences.
Alternatively, children who aren’t exposed to risky play may feel less self-confident and more vulnerable. This lack of confidence can affect their development in other ways, including increased sedentary behaviour, anxiety, and phobias.
- Girls are less likely to be exposed to the benefits of risky play.
Another interesting finding from these studies is that we’re teaching girls to be scared. Parents of boys are more likely to encourage their kids to participate in risk-taking activities than parents of girls.
Parenting practices toward boys include greater exploratory boundaries and less restrictive behaviours than parenting practices toward girls who are being taught that they’re more vulnerable than their male counterparts. This means girls are less likely to experience the social and physical benefits that come with risky play. This is an area we need to improve, clearly.
Children develop best when we educate and encourage them to embrace challenges rather than trying to shield them. When we allow our kids to take risks, they might even surprise us with how well they thrive when trusted with that responsibility.
Marion teaches maths and science in Year 1. She likes exploring new teaching methods and deeply believes learning can be a lot of fun. In her free time, she likes travelling and spending time with her children.