benefits of risky play in childcare

The Benefits of Risky Play in Childcare

As childcare providers, it’s a given fact that their main and fundamental role is to educate and care for children.

As a natural precaution, children are protected from all kinds of harm. However, children also need to experience new challenges and whatever the world has to offer.

They need to have a level of freedom and venture into new territory that’s not in their comfort zone.

How is this done then?

It’s called risky play — and it’s becoming recognised as a vital opportunity to develop young children.

Risky play is a natural part of children’s play and is defined as a thrilling and exciting play session or activity that involves risky of sustaining physical injury, provides opportunities for challenge, and testing the limits and exploring boundaries.

Read on to learn more about risky play and the benefits of risky play in childcare

benefits of risky play in childcare infographic


What are the Benefits of Risky Play in Childcare?

benefits of risky play in childcare - children running in open space

Some of the key life skills children may benefit from risky play are the following:

  • Problem-solving
  • Develop being curious
  • Being Resourceful
  • Awareness of the capabilities and limits of their bodies
  • Being able to assess and make judgment without risks
  • Handling tools safely and with purpose
  • Understanding consequences to certain actions
  • Creativity
  • Confidence and Independence

Children who don’t engage in risky play are more likely to be clumsy, less physically fit, have little control over their motor skills, are not confident about their own body and abilities, and will be less able to manage risks.

Risky play is crucial to the overall development of children. Early childhood educators and parents must be open to the idea that experiencing and going through these experiences can only benefit them more than harm them.

While it’s understandable that most educators and parents would want to exercise safety first over anything, having to let your children experience risky play doesn’t necessarily mean no safety measures will be observed.

On the contrary, safety measures are heightened during risky play sessions. The goal is for children to experience risky and challenging situations that will push them to their limits and gain valuable experience, all while avoiding the risky of being seriously hurt or injured.

In fact, the approved early years learning framework from ACECQA for children aged birth to five years under the National Quality Framework, encourages learning environments to invite and encourage children to take risks.

It also lists a number of key outcomes of early childhood, one of which being that children become strong in their social and emotional wellbeing through many aspects including accepting challenges and taking considered risks.


Having Risky Play in a Safe Environment

Childcare providers must always be keen to ensure that children have the opportunities to enjoy all the benefits of risky play, without having any serious injuries.

Risks can either be categorised as a challenge or a hazard.

Challenges are scenarios that children can negotiate which might be appropriate for certain situations — like a tall climbing frame or a tree.

However, hazards are flat-out dangerous, and you might need to completely remove or at least modify them. For example, if a climbing frame or tree has sharp edges, you can either advise that children are not to be allowed to climb or have the sharp edges removed so children can climb safely and come back without sustaining any injuries.

A few tips on how to approach potential hazards:

  • Never treat each hazard with the same degree of seriousness
  • Identify which hazard needs modification, removal, or replacing
  • Assess whether you can restructure and turn a hazard into a safe challenge instead

Children should always be supervised when risky play sessions are ongoing. Any dangerous equipment used for risky play must also be taken into consideration and practice caution — put away scissors or any sharp objects after an activity. Never leave any tool behind or within reach once an activity has ended.


The Types of Risky Play

risky play in childcare - kids playing in the woods

  • Dangerous elements – Children love to play with fire, or around deep bodies of water. Both of which pose danger and should be highly supervised in case any form of risky play involves any of these dangerous elements.
  • Rough and Tumble – Children chase one another and fight playfully, and sometimes find themselves in a vulnerable position — either the one being chased, or the child underneath a wrestling-type of play (the position in which involves the most risk of being hurt requires the most skill to overcome)
  • Great heights – Climbing trees and other high structures offer children a bird’s eye view of the world and that thrilling feeling of “Yes, I did it!” once they reach the top.
  • Dangerous tools – Depending on the culture, children play with knives, bows and arrows, farm machinery (where work and play combine), or other tools known to be potentially dangerous. There’s great satisfaction in being trusted to handle such tools, but also a thrill in controlling them, knowing that a mistake could hurt.
  • Rapid Speeds – Swinging on vines, ropes or playground swings; sliding on sleds, skates or playground slides; shoot down rapids on logs or boats; and riding bikes, skateboards, rollerblades, and other similar devices that can produce the thrill of almost, but not quite, losing control.


Creating More Opportunities for Risky Play

For early childhood services, here are a few tips on how to introduce more risky play, and let children reap the benefits of risky play in childcare:

  1. Allow physical play – Let children climb, jump, chase each other and challenge and discover their unique individual physical skills.
  2. Be gender-equal – Intentional or not, most child care providers tend to encourage boys to be adventurers and explorers more than they do with girls. Be sure to treat everyone equally — let any child push their boundaries, leave their comfort zone, and be the little explorers that they are.
  3. Excursions – Go on outings to places like the bush or beach to explore nature at its finest.
  4. Encourage creativity – Allow the use of playground equipment in unusual, non-traditional ways. For example, encourage children to go up the slides, instead of sliding down.
  5. Always be there to support – Give children the opportunity to explore, solve, and make decisions with your support.

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